With lush orchestrations of finely honed compositions, bassist Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors reveals a broad musical vision. A stalwart of the new music scene, playing improv and indie-rock projects and blurring those distinctions, Sickafoose's third CD highlights his maturation as a composer and talents as a multi-instrumentalist, with pieces incorporating a swath of stylistic influencesrock, Americana, jazz, blues and touches of modern classical.
Sickafoose works a sweeping aural range, with instrumentation that includes two guitars, drums and auxiliary percussion, trumpet, tenor saxophone, trombone and violin (in addition to guests on baritone sax and voice). But the music is never overpowering, as the leader carefully uses instrumental groupings for timbral contrast and counterpoint and is not afraid to leave some out for stretches. A repeating bass figure opens "Future Flora," as both guitars and drums cushion the cagey violin and a hint of Sickafoose's overdubbed vibes before the horns' slick phrase shifts the tune's direction, quickening the pace.
On the sprawling "Bye Bye Bees," plucked violin and bells play one rhythm against that of the guitar and percussion. The second guitar articulates the melodic line amid the whorled sonic layers and guest Ani Difranco's effected voice and spoken word commentaries bridge sections, while the horns pick up the melody. Sickafoose's spare piano introduces the elegiac "Pianos of the 9th Ward" and later subtly duets with his bass, the tune building emotion with Shane Endsley's muted trumpet. The leader embroiders with bells, vibes/marimba and various keys, emphasizing melodies or thickening the rhythms, each new sound supporting a composition's overall construction.
Similarly, the improvisations serve the narrative flow and are not about grandstanding. Andrew Bird's violin soars during the elegant "Cloud of Dust" and the pastoral "Whistle," with its quirky piano phrase and acoustic guitar filigrees from Adam Levy. Levy also stretches out on the swanky "Paper Trombones," with Simon Lott's shuffled snare propelling him and Alan Ferber's swaggering trombone.
In performance at New York's the Knitting Factory on May 13, 2008, the music lost some of its nuance with the modified instrumentation of single guitarist Mike Gamble, no sax and Sickafoose solely on acoustic bass. But the strong themes burst through and with more space, the improvs ventured further, particularly those of Endsley and subbing violinist Jenny Scheinman. Free sections alluding to the composed material bridged a medley of "Future Flora," "Serpentine" (an earlier composition) and "Paper Trombones," illustrating the flexibility inherent within the compositions.
Track Listing: Future Flora; Invisible Ink, Revealed; Bye Bye Bees; Pianos of the 9th Ward; Everyone is Going; Cloud of Dust; Warm Stone; Paper Trombones; Whistle; Tiny Resistors; Barnacle.
Personnel: Shane Endsley: trumpet; Ben Wendel: tenor sax, bassoon; Alan Ferber: trombone; Skerik: baritone sax (5,8); Adam Levy: guitar, acoustic guitar; Mike Gamble: guitar, effects; Allison Miller: drums (2,3,11), percussion (5-10); Simon Lott: drums (1, 4-10), percussion (2,3,11); Andrew Bird: violin, looping, whistling; Ani Difranco: voice, telephone mic (3), electric ukulele (4); Todd Sickafoose: acoustic and electric bass, piano, wurlitzer, vibraphone, marimba, bells, celeste, accordion through a Leslie.