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Tethered Moon/Kikuchi, Peacock, Motian: Play Kurt Weill

Chris May By

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An album with a sake barrel of promise going for it but which doesn't ultimately hit the spot.

It doesn't, for starters, serve up the kind of music which you might reasonably expect from its title. As with Tethered Moon's other themed albums—pegged on the music of Piaf, Hendrix, and Puccini—the source material on this reissue is treated in the main cursorily, not something to be dug deep into but functioning instead as a series of miniature launchpads for freestyling, almost unconnected improvisations, led and shaped by Japanese pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. The set could almost be titled Play John Cage for all the difference it would make. Only rarely, notably on "September Song" and "Speak Low," do Kikuchi, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Paul Motian really get inside Weill's music and play it.

While this might be a missed opportunity, it doesn't in itself invalidate the group's approach. And it wouldn't matter anyway if Tethered Moon, which includes two of the world's most creative and responsive improvisors, really kicked in as an interactive, shared-purpose unit. The fact that they mostly don't may in part be because Tethered Moon is an occasional and intermittent project. Since forming in '91 the trio has averaged one album every three years. Play Kurt Weill, first released in '95 and now reissued in remastered form, was the third.

The group is, in reality, not a collective, but a project curated and directed by Kikuchi—in fact, just one of his many and varied projects, also including the funked-up electric manga mash the All Night, All Right, Off White Boogie Band, solo recitals, and electronica. His astringent, alyrical style, which somehow manages to be both fitful and predictable, doesn't really mesh with either Peacock or Motian. Indeed, at times you wonder why those two musicians have stuck with the project for fifteen years. (And inevitably also wonder if you're failing to hear something blindingly beautiful in the music. Maybe I am, but I don't think so, and indeed there's a distinct suggestion of the Emperor's new clothes or at least a folie a trois about this one.)

I've been hard on the album because its source material and players might seem to promise so much. It is not without some memorable moments—most notably "Speak Low," in which Motian takes a more assertive and forward role than he does for most of the time, and on which the group does achieve a sustained burn of collective momentum and beauty. But such moments are infrequent.

Now, can you imagine the heaven that Monk Plays Weill might have been? Or which Enrico Rava Plays Weill still could be?


Track Listing: Alabama Song; Barbara Song; Moritat; September Song; It Never Was You; Trouble Man; Speak Low; Bilbao Song; My Ship.

Personnel: Masabumi Kikuchi: piano; Gary Peacock: bass; Paul Motian: drums.

Title: Play Kurt Weill | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Winter & Winter

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