217

Never Enough Hope: The Gift Economy

John Dworkin By

Sign in to view read count
Never Enough Hope: The Gift Economy Tobin Summerfield's Chicago ensemble Never Enough Hope is a modern musician's Noah's ark. The players come in pairs: two trumpets, two alto saxophones, two tenor saxophones, two lower range saxophones, two violins, two mid-range strings, two basses, two guitars, two vibraphones and two drum kits. The resemblance in instrumentation to a traditional jazz big band is this group's only similarity to that sonic world.

The Gift Economy is a showcase for Summerfield's compositions. His music has the idiosyncrasy and ambition of Frank Zappa coupled with the disparate elements and brutality of John Zorn's Naked City. There are hints of minimalism, free jazz, rock balladry, psychedelic freak-outs, afro-pop, etc. It's a physically powerful recording. Often disturbingly so. But although occasionally intriguing, the results are mainly uneven.

"The Banner" opens with dreamy, atonal strings floating through improvised drumming and vibraphones. There's a balance here (and throughout) between improvisation and composition. When the atmosphere is lighter, this balance works to Summerfield's advantage. "Des Moines" is also introduced with a section featuring the strings and the drummers—this time using a gentle, repeating pizzicato figure with soft beaters playfully making time beneath them. This tune features the recording's most memorable melody. But as forms build, shifts in mood and dynamics are often abrupt and chaotic making much of the music difficult to digest.

It's no coincidence an earlier Summerfield project was called Crush Kill Destroy. The Gift Economy is like a tale of two cities... at war. Or a tale of two buildings floating in space on a collision course. Summerfield erects dense harmonies or static grooves—often rhythmically hip and danceable ones—only to abruptly erect another, often seemingly unrelated, more brutal sound to overwhelm the prior. Occasionally there's an interesting kaleidoscopic effect from this practice and the inclusion of strings sometimes adds a shimmering quality. But more often, instead of these buildings colliding to form new and modernistic Guggenheim-like structures, they simply collapse into rubble.

There's also an issue with the group's balance sometimes coming off as bottom heavy. Two basses, a baritone saxophone and a bass saxophone all playing in their lower registers can be a useful effect. It can also result in an overpowering, harmonically muddled mess. Summerfield is well aware of this and uses it to add to his density. It seems the object of certain sections is to create ambiguous, loud, churning masses of clashing dissonance that create a moil in the pit of one's stomach. As a rare shock, this is effective. But as a regular and prolonged focus, it becomes tiresome.

The last track, "A Gift," has the recording's only vocal. Though uncredited, it can be assumed Summerfield is singing. His range and style are reminiscent of a tune from the film Zero Effect (1998) by Nick Cave, in subdued mode. In fact, Summerfield's lyrics could've been written by the film's title character. Because of its directness and heart, and despite its stylistic difference, this pop ballad is the CD's most affecting track.

Track Listing: The Banner; Des Moines; Two Ghosts At The Table; Grant Park; The Light Tilts Out; A Gift.

Personnel: Tobin Summerfield: composer; Dina Maccabee: violin; Sara Jo Zaharako: violin; Amy Cimini: viola; Kevin Davis: cello; Eric Perney: double bass; Jaimie Branch: trumpet; Brian Lipson: trumpet; Aram Shelton: alto saxophone; Dave Rempis: alto saxophone; Keefe Jackson: tenor saxophone; Tim Haldeman: tenor saxophone; Dan Bennett: baritone saxophone; Colin Stetson: bass saxophone; Tim Brown: vibraphone; Dan Sylvester: vibraphone; Josh Tillinghast: guitar; Nathaniel Braddock; guitar; Jason Ajemian: electric bass; Tim Strand; drums; Frank Rosaly: drums.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Contraphonic | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


Shop

More Articles

Read Groove Dreams CD/LP/Track Review Groove Dreams
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Kami Fusen CD/LP/Track Review Kami Fusen
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Two CD/LP/Track Review Two
by Joe Gatto
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand CD/LP/Track Review Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Nightfall CD/LP/Track Review Nightfall
by John Kelman
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Pekka CD/LP/Track Review Pekka
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 22, 2017
Read "Begin to Dance" CD/LP/Track Review Begin to Dance
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 19, 2017
Read "Moons" CD/LP/Track Review Moons
by Dave Wayne
Published: July 27, 2016
Read "Fugitive Beauté" CD/LP/Track Review Fugitive Beauté
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 11, 2016
Read "With Due Respect" CD/LP/Track Review With Due Respect
by Chris Mosey
Published: June 23, 2016
Read "Sign of the Crow" CD/LP/Track Review Sign of the Crow
by Geno Thackara
Published: July 30, 2016
Read "America's National Parks" CD/LP/Track Review America's National Parks
by Mark Sullivan
Published: October 10, 2016
comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, hide slide-outs, and provide read access to our future articles.

Buy it!