Many genius artists have been labeled as freaks or lunatics because they didn't conform to the standards of civil society, let alone the codes of behavior for musicians. Thelonious Monk, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Sun Ra are obvious examples of brilliant creators whose music endures and is celebrated. Add to that list Louis Thomas Hardin (1916-1999) aka Moondog. The blind composer-musician could often be found on 6th Avenue in New York dressed as a Viking, selling his music and poetry. His music was difficult to pigeonhole. It was minimalist, modal, orchestral, jazz, found sound and, you get it, ubiquitous. He favored contrapuntal arrangements, and that is where Chicago saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi picks up the trail with Snaketime: The Music Of Moondog.
Laurenzi leads the quartet Natural Language, contributes to the trio Twin Talk, as well as performing with the indie folk band Bon Iver. His tenor saxophone is seemingly always the quiet voice (of reason) on the bandstand. With this exploration of Moondog's music he brings his rational approach, playing and skilled arrangements to these seven covers. Recorded live in 2018, this project is realized with a current Who's Who of Chicago improvisers.
Opening with "Nero's Expedition," bass clarinetist Jason Stein carries the melody over the percussion cavalcade of Quin Kirchner and Ryan Packard. The ensemble joins, layering the quirky melody as if braiding a lengthy carpet. Laurenzi takes great care to preserve the integrity of Moondog's compositions. You may have heard "Lament 1 (Bird's Lament)," written for Charlie Parker; a few years ago, it was played on an almost continuous loop as an automobile commercial. It may be the perfect example of Moondog's contrapuntal sound, with Laurenzi, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella and trumpeter Chad McCullough crossing the melodic lines over the infectious percussive attack. Moondog favored Native American rhythms, which he heard as a youngster in Kansas at the feet of Arapaho Chief Yellow Calf. Those sounds can be heard on "All Is Loneliness" and "Remember." Laurenzi's arrangements untangle the complex, making the music very simple, yet very demanding at the same time. The disc ends with an open-ended interpretation of "Lullaby," with Stein's bass clarinet squawking over Dave Miller's pinging guitar and the orchestral tidal flow of the other bandmates. This feels like a fitting end to this most excellent tribute.
Nero’s Expedition; Lament 1 (Bird's Lament); Remember; Fiesta Piano Solo; Down Is Up; All Is Loneliness;
Chad McCullough: trumpet; Nick Mazzarella: alto saxophone; Dustin Laurenzi: tenor saxophone; Jason Stein:
bass clarinet; Dave Miller: guitar; Matt Ulery: bass; Quin Kirchner: drums, percussion; Ryan Packard: drums,