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Clint Bahr: Puzzlebox

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Clint Bahr: Puzzlebox
Puzzlebox is precisely that: A hard-cover box of musical curios arranged around an 11-minute improvisation ("As Tympani Melt in the Greek Heat") performed not by a band but by a rotating caravan of progressive jazz and rock musicians organized by multi-instrumentalist and composer Clint Bahr. Bahr's collaborators in this curious collection include pianist Marilyn Crispell, violinist David Cross, the late Yes guitarist Peter Banks and other musicians who have performed with artists as far-ranging as Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (trombonist Dick Griffin) and The Roots (woodwind player Jeff Schiller).

Because it presents so many different contributors in so many different formats, Puzzlebox comes off like an anthology boxed set even though it's only one CD. Bookend versions of "Tabula Rasa 1" and "Tabula Rasa 2" open and close with a heady psychedelic mixture of sitar, tambura and flute, a captivating effect that loops its ending back into its beginning.

But after that tranquil opening, Puzzlebox grows more dense, heavy and hard. Bahr plays three different basses (4-, 8-and 12-string) to drive "New Design" into a prog-rock stomp that quickly turns violent and fierce—especially its sputtering bridge, which sounds so angry that it can barely spit out the right notes. Horns singing in eastern/oriental tones simultaneously complement and contrast with its brittle, angry rock stomp. Together, the rhythm and horn charts pull this "New Design" together into a sound that suggests Deep Purple and Jade Warrior, stalwarts at very different ends of the British prog-rock spectrum, jamming together.

Bahr's bass seems barely able to restrain the extended improvisation for piano, violin, trombone and percussion "Plate" as it keeps growing for nearly eight minutes. The trombone seems to play off the relatively straight bass-and-drum shuffle but pianist Crispell seems to have recorded a different tune played in a different time, and then superimposed it (like an upside-down plate) on top. If you've ever wondered what improvisational pianist Cecil Taylor might sound like accompanied by improvisational jazz-rockers like Soft Machine, dig into this "Plate."

The centerpiece improvisation "As Tympani Melt in the Greek Heat" is psychedelic and evocative, more of a painting in sound than a song. Drummer Mike Hough sets up rhythms in which none of the other instruments sound interested; the trombone, woodwind and piano all seem to go their own way. Then in the last minute, the chaotic sound clears and surreally reveals what sounds like the digital dawning of a new day.

Puzzlebox arranges smaller curio pieces ("Belt & Braces," "Oslo" and the improvisation "Triangles, Circles & Squares") like side orders and relishes around these main pieces.

Puzzlebox also celebrates two decades of Clint Bahr's relationship with MoonJune Records founder Leonardo Pavkovic: The self-titled debut of Bahr's protean NYC-based power trio TriPod was the fourth release in MoonJune's fledgling catalog in 2003.

Track Listing

Tabula Rasa; New Design; Plate; Shelter; As Tympani Melt In The Greek Heat; Fall From Grace; Belt & Braces; Triangles Circles And Squares; Oslo; Kicking The Wasps Nests; Lifeguard In The Rain; Tabula Rasa 2.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

David Jackson: flutes, woodwinds, effects; Billy Ficca: drums and cymbals; Colin Carter: vocals; David Cross: violins, viola; Stephanie Feyne: dialogue; Peter Banks: guitar.

Album information

Title: Puzzlebox | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: MoonJune Records


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