The Treehouse Project: The Picture Show

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
The Treehouse Project: The Picture Show Drummer Michael Reed's Treehouse Project takes a decidedly idiosyncratic turn on The Picture Show. The tunes on this 3-CD set reflect a conscious marriage of image and music (or, in the case of the last disc, words and music). While the idea of tying music to art is not a novel one, this set twists the concept: each tune on The Picture Show has a companion photograph. The photos (mostly of the lo-fi home vintage) show people at various ages and in various settings, each hinting at a story. The Treehouse Project takes off from there. For example, on "The Slow Learners Club" (a black and white photo showing a group of bored-looking young people) moves through lumbering swing and bluesy passages, building off a simple theme and aiming toward clear resolution. The combination works. On "Big Top" (photo featuring a grade schooler in a shiny clown outfit) the group hits the circus theme big time, complete with a sing-song melody on clarinet and trumpet. Needless to say, each of these pieces expands into extended improvisation, but one has the sense at all times that the group has convened to convey a coherent message reflecting the image at hand.

The outright success of this project owes itself to three features: first, a collection of clever and thought-provoking images (and words); second, fluent exposition through highly varied compositions; and third, good old-fashioned group coherence and interplay. One gets the sense from The Picture Show that while structure may dictate the melody and harmonic structure, each player is free to add his or her own personality to the music. For the leader, Michael Reed, that manifests itself through understated support—percolating energy during quieter moments, fast-driving hits when the tempo picks up. For guitarist Colin Bunn, that translates into crystalline melodies, angular & twisted solos, and an ear for the unexpected. Saxophonist Jonathan Doyle has regular duty at the helm, and he uses that position to advantage exploring a wide range of styles from swing to blues to the uncategorizable beyond.

A few more high points. "The Party" (grainy '70s image of a family gathering) digs deep into a sauntering groove, high-spirited and celebratory. One can almost hear a kazoo solo midway through. "Never One To Complain" (a family gathered around a vintage Audi at the beach) waxes lyrical, bringing Ken Champion's pedal steel to the forefront for a reverberant, melancholy stroll. The last disc (Last... Words) takes on tunes by the likes of Cream, Ray Charles, and Ron Sexsmith, delivering alternate takes without words that owe their spirit to the original but are otherwise completely reworked. "You Don't Know Me" (Ray Charles) comes across as a rueful lament, slow-paced and quiet. The very brief "Just a Song Before I Go" (Crosby Stills & Nash) adopts open country harmonies and a reverberant soft tone. If you look at the words behind this music, the correspondence remains as clear as it is on the other discs where tunes are matched to image.

For a project this ambitious, The Picture Show is remarkably successful. This set spans an extremely broad range of styles, traveling through sound and image with a fluidity that is almost surreal. Sure, certain tunes might seem overly simplistic or stylized, but that's the band's prerogative in response to the subject material. The Treehouse Project has really evolved and dramatically expanded its sound since its 1999 eponymous debut. It will be exciting to hear what the group tackles next.

Track Listing: Prologue: Cameo Frame: Tic-Toc; The Party; Slow Boat; A Little Pick-Me-Up; Tic-Toc Reprise; Never One To Complain; A Few Good Men; Graduation Day. The Picture Show: Places Everyone; Hold It... Hold It!; The Ugliest Girl Alive; Time Out; Corsages; The Big Top; Intermission (Music Provided by the Half Time Trio); Curtain; The Cocktail Party Effect; The Slow Learners Club; A Perfect Fit; Dance Lessons; A Place For Us. Epilogue: Last... Words: Last Words; Politician; Just A Little Loving; You Don't Know Me; Child Star; The Dutch Boy; Just a Song Before I Go.

Personnel: Colin Bunn: guitar; Ken Champion: pedal steel; Jonathan Doyle: tenor saxophone & clarinet; Michael Reed: drums; Matt Thompson: bass & violin uke. Also included on The Picture Show: Brian Anderson: piano; John "Bud" Poston: banjo; Lisa Shrag: harp; Nate Walcott: trumpet.

Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: 482 Music | Style: Modern Jazz


More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "Groovin' Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968" CD/LP/Track Review Groovin' Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: January 18, 2017
Read "AMa AZa LaNdO" CD/LP/Track Review AMa AZa LaNdO
by Geno Thackara
Published: August 23, 2016
Read "Sektion 1-2" CD/LP/Track Review Sektion 1-2
by Mark Corroto
Published: December 21, 2016
Read "Bright Side" CD/LP/Track Review Bright Side
by David A. Orthmann
Published: October 31, 2016
Read "Daylight Ghosts" CD/LP/Track Review Daylight Ghosts
by Mark Sullivan
Published: February 21, 2017
Read "Lightyears" CD/LP/Track Review Lightyears
by Jim Olin
Published: July 2, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!