While countless artists are busily dissolving artificial boundaries between musical styles, it's still shocking to hear a group just plain nuke them. Hamster Theatre does exactly that on this two-disc set presenting alternate yet not dissimilar aspects of this genre-busting group spearheaded by multi-instrumentalists/composers Dave Wiley and Jon Stubbs. The release includes the studio recording The Public Execution of Mister Personality and Quasi Day Room: Live at the Moore Theatre, from a 2002 live performance.
The studio disc demonstrates more breadth, if for no other reason than the ability to create a broader sonic palette; Wiley alone overdubs as many as six instruments at one time. There are many antecedents to this music, but Rock In Opposition's Henry Cow and Univers Zero are two of the most obvious examples. However, Hamster Theatre is less overtly political than Cow andwith a wonderful sense of the absurd stemming from Wiley's love of Swedish accordionist Lars Hollmerless persistently bleak than UZ.
Hamster Theatre accomplishes much in little time. The episodic "162 begins in a Clogs-like chamber space, takes on a harder edge when bass, drums and electric guitar enter, then devolves briefly into free-form Ayler-esque abandon, courtesy of reedsman Mark Harris. "We Unearth... introduces the icy cool of cascading electric piano and flutereminiscent of recorded work by Finnish harpist/pianist Iro Haarlabut Mike Johnson's jagged guitar adds a paradoxical edge which harkens back to Fred Frith's work on Henry Cow's Unrest (Virgin, 1974). "Reddy 4 Luv alternates a brooding, tension-filled vamp with a bright and catchy themealbeit in 7/4.
Counterpoint is the order of the day, and virtually every track is a complex intertwining of themes and influences ranging from RIO to Erik Satie, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. On the basis of the studio disc, and with much of Hamster Theatre's music written for modern dance and multimedia performance, one might think they'd have a hard time in concert, but the live set allays that assumption. From the skewed polka of "The Cat Song to the quasi-Latin rhythm of "But Di Lie Town So, the group's palette may be more limited, but its musical references are anything but. It's also clear that improvisation is a part of Hamster Theatre, but generally under controlled circumstances.
It's been suggested that stylistically defiant bands like Univers Zero are creating a classical music for the new millennium. The same can be said about Hamster Theatre, which possesses an even greater range than UZ. The Public Execution is a challenging but evocative and completely enthralling listen.
Track Listing: CD1: Race Against Time; "162"; We Unearth the Lost Book of Mister Personality and Its Consequences; Reddy 4 Luv; The Quasdi Day Room Ceremonial Quadrille; Love Theme from "All Clytemnestra on the Western Front"; Oye Comatose; Litost; La Sacre D'Merde; The Quasi Day Room Ceremonial Tango; The Fairytale in Reverse; Phoenix; It Was Only a Dream. CD2: Bean Dance; The Cat Song; But Di Lie Town So; Jeanne-Marie; Bug 2: The History of the United States of America; Vermilion Hue Over Lake Lausanne; Tick Fever; Ving Vang; Home; The 5; Hamster Dance; The Bug Show; Cat 2: Seige on Hamburger City.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.