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Three with Chris Speed/Skirl Records: Big Choantza; Smell The Difference; Esopus Opus

Sean Patrick Fitzell By

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The New Mellow Edwards
Big Choantza
Skirl Records
2009


Tyft
Smell The Difference
Skirl Records
2009


Ben Perowsky Quartet
Esopus Opus
Skirl Records
2009


Since founding Skirl Records in 2006, saxophonist Chris Speed still hasn't led a project for the label. But that hasn't diminished his instrumental contributions to it. His distinct tenor and clarinet are integral to the latest Skirl crop, illuminating his range as a player and the broad eclecticism of the label.

Big Choantza is the second installment from trombonist Curtis Hasselbring's The New Mellow Edwards, with Speed, bassist Trevor Dunn and drummer John Hollenbeck. The music casually veers between song forms and textural soundscapes—sometimes within the same piece. On "First Loser," suspenseful clarinet and trombone lines float over a languidly staggering feel, the bowed bass reminiscent of tuba, before a sparser section evolves for Hasselbring's loquacious turn. The hyper-tight frenzy of "Helkakelka, Helkakelka" dissolves into the frontline's impressionistic extended effects. Clarinet and trombone play complementary rhythmic phrases over the insistent bass groove of "Sacks on the Beach," before Speed appropriately switches to tenor for a spirited concluding shot. Buzzes and drones strain harmony on the atmospheric "Annoying Guy," until Hollenbeck establishes order. Hasselbring blends formal compositional and rock-pop influences and humor permeates the music without feeling contrived.

Speed and trumpet-phenom Peter Evans are guests on Smell The Difference, the latest offering from guitarist Hilmar Jensson's Tyft with alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo and drummer Jim Black. Jensson has honed a metal-prov aesthetic; his crunching guitar constructs tight grooves with Black, often in odd-times, as serpentine three-horn unisons twist through. "Smell the Goodness" exemplifies this and boasts a formidable sax exchange, with dirge-like tenor contrasting darting alto bursts. D'Angelo's kazoo-like bleats pepper the kinetic flurry of "Froth," intensifying as tenor and trumpet join. Horns pop over the crackling odd-metered guitar and bashing drums of "Kryppa," Jensson's angularity eliciting a call-and-response between D'Angelo's bass clarinet and Speed's clarinet during the bridge. The swirling intro of "Flimbergeist" morphs into car-alarm blares then erupts with a frenetic sax debate and rhythmic urgency, eventually dissipating for Evans' freestyle. Jensson finally eases back with the smoldering, sustained tones of the concluding "Klinglet."

Drummer Ben Perowsky breezily mixes jazz, rock and traditional idioms on his Skirl debut, Esopus Opus. Speed is the primary melodic voice, with accordionist Ted Reichman providing chordal support and bassist Drew Gress completing the quartet. Perowsky's rakish swagger propels the gutbucket opener "Key Lime," with Speed's tenor digging into its swanky vamp. Speed's clarinet takes the 'vocal' on the Hendrix classic "Manic Depression," hitting siren-like cries in solo before the leader's gregarious embellishments. The clarinet/accordion combination evokes a Middle Eastern flavor, transforming The Beatles' Indian-inspired classic "Within You, Without You." They spar on Perowsky's taut, quick-hitting title tune while his "Murnau on the Bayou" has a funky Cajun mood for Gress' slick solo. The drummer dances and prods the quartet with skittering chops for two Brazilian covers and returns home to conjure a mysterious vibe for the subtly unfolding "Red Hook."


Tracks and Personnel

Big Choantza

Tracks: Big Choantza; First Loser; Helkakelka, Helkakelka; Sacks on the Beach; Large Detective; Annoying Guy; Youth Against Fascism; Good Job; Backfat Vs. Fumi.

Personnel: Curtis Hasselbring: trombone; Chris Speed: clarinet and tenor saxophone; Trevor Dunn: acoustic bass; John Hollenbeck: drums and percussion.

Smell The Difference

Tracks: Smell the Goodness; Froth; Pittles; Kryppa; Klondike; Flimbergeist; Clifton; Klinglet.

Personnel: Hilmar Jensson: guitars; Andrew D'Angelo: alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Jim Black: drums; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Peter Evans: trumpet; Joel Hamilton: electronics (4).

Esopus Opus

Tracks: Key Lime; Manic Depression; Within You Without You; Esopus Opus; Perolas; Nem Um Talvez; Flying; Murnau on the Bayou; Present Distance; Red Hook.

Personnel: Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Ben Perowsky: drums; Drew Gress: bass; Ted Reichman: accordion.


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