Only the optimism of youth can explain the creation of this very ambitious and hopeful CD.
For Trees & Birds is the name of their quartet and this is a live recording composed of four recent New York City college graduates sporting music degrees, who are prepared to take on the worldjazz and otherwise. This album was actually an accident. Someone at one of their concerts recorded it and gave them the music. After listening to it, they felt it was worth preserving on disc.
In the words of bassist Chris Gaskell
, "We wanted to start the revolution." When you listen to this amalgamation of Ornette Coleman
and Radiohead with a few bows to, in Gaskell's words, "video game and animated movie scores," you know from the first few notes that you are in for quite a ride.
Actually, the revolution they aspire to had already started way back when John Coltrane
and Ornette Coleman waived goodbye to chord changes and counted on their spirit to guide them. It accelerated with the arrival of Donald and Albert Ayler
and a host of others in what was referred to as avant-garde jazz.
While that label may not suitably describe music that has been around for at least half a century, at the time, it created a furor in the jazz community, much of which has since died down. In the interim, many of its practitioners have dialed it back a bit, often resorting to playing standards and familiar jazz tunes. On the other hand, it has emboldened many more boppish oriented players, who feel completely comfortable stretching the idea of extending chord changes to the outer limits. Art Pepper
was one of the most notable such practitioners, but it has affected almost any modern jazz player.
At first listen, the album Seasons 1-4 Live
sounds chaotic, but an open mind and ears will reveal that there is quite a bit going on here.
"The Bride" kicks off the recording with a somewhat startlingly free alto solo by Jasper Dutz
that soon is wrapped in an edgy rhythm as the rest of the band checking in behind him. After the initial turbulence, it settles into some kind of a groove based on a tune by the Projectors according to the verbal introduction.
"Drink Coffee" is introduced by guitarist Lee Meadvin and is, in its own weird way, a ballad. This is very reminiscent of Ornette Coleman
and it establishes a pattern of several phrases followed by almost no pulse at all. Dutz takes the lead, as the song takes on a dirge like feeling, then rises and falls with a frenetic rhythm section accentuating his twists and turns.
Dutz explores the bass saxophone in "Intro to Mangled Colossus," showing off his affection for Eric Dolphy
. It is an a cappella piece that evolves into "Mangled Colossus," really an extension of the intro, but listed as a separate song on the CD. Dutz does a really fine job utilizing dynamics in some of his less frenzied moments on the album.
"Mangled" continues with Meadvin offering an abstract guitar solo, gradually building intensity as bassist Gaskell and drummer Connor Parks
accompany him up the mountain. Dutz returns with a mid Eastern tinge with Gaskin's rumbling bass and Parks' drums in the background. It returns to a sort of melody -as close to one as you are going to get here.
"Gas" begins very slowly with a kind of walking bass until Dutz chimes in mournfully on bass clarinet and finally guitar and drums.
"Meadic" acknowledges the group's rock roots, but with a joyous melody hinting at Keith Jarrett
"I'm Patrick" is an exercise in simultaneous improvisation in an agonizingly slow tempo, with Dutz gradually rising to the top with an eerie exposition that then seems to become some kind of joyful anthem, until the drum take over with the song concluding unexpectedly a minute later -more stopping than ending.
"When It Gets Warmer" begins with a repetitive rock like rhythm while Dutz counters on alto with a statement that fits the groove set down by the rest of the band.
Dutz appears to be the most adventurous and accomplished of the four, but that may be due more to circumstance. All four are obviously capable musicians. Listening to this music will be an adventure to most people with open minds and ears.
There has long been a debate as to whether one must earn their stripes before venturing so far off the edge. Critics and musicians alike have bemoaned the fact that some musicians new to the scene have never learned the fundamentals; that they should be playing swing and bebop and big band music and modal jazz before straying so far from the mainstream. A few more years of experience might inform this music and make it more grounded and more accessible.
There have been thousands of bands formed by aspiring and youthful players and almost all of them have crash landed eventually. That's not to say that if five years from now For Trees & Birds is little more than a distant memory that this album is lacking in value. There are some delightful moments worth hearing. This cd is a stepping stone. It remains to be seen if they can continue stepping and perhaps smooth over some of the rougher edges and reach a wider audience.