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Greg Kelley: Trumpet

Derek Taylor By

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One of the most useful and elementary devices available to critics is the comparison of a given musical work to what has come before. But what if the music in question has no precedent in the critic’s knowledge base? The closest referent I can come up with for Trumpet is Side Two of Sun Ra’s My Brother the Wind, Volume 2, but even this correlation is hopelessly deficient. On that record Ra experimented with the myriad sounds attainable through the amplified Mini-Moog abandoning song structure for courageous and undiluted sound exploration. On this date Kelley takes a similar tack, but bends his sonic lens in the opposite direction, starting out with purely acoustic materials and unleashing a host of sounds previously reserved for electronics derived sources.

Calling Kelley’s brass methodology unorthodox is like measuring the circumference of the planet Jupiter in microns; the superlative doesn’t even come close to capturing the alien nature of his inventions on his instrument. While most musicians turn to electronics as a means of opening their palette to a plurality of sounds perhaps unachievable through acoustic avenues Kelley boldly illustrates that such sounds are also divinable through unamplified means. Using only his trumpet and a handful of household accoutrements (various paper, plastic, metal and cardboard mutes) he effectively turns his horn into an alchemical processing device for any and all sound shapes and textures.

The names of individual pieces appear to have been attached after the fact and almost arbitrarily with several tracks lacking descriptors altogether. Similarly Kelley’s creations seem to be far more concerned with the particulars and possibilities of sound manipulation rather than easily mapped architectures. The valves of his instrument prove secondary and it is breath and embouchure that are the central elements of construction. Chattering static, sonic sine wave oscillations, split tones, no tones, silence- throughout any semblance of structure is diminished into pure sound smears and textures. Whisper thin breath sounds hover just within audible range alternating with pursed balloon squeaks and descending eructative flutters. In other instances whistling gusts of exhaled air are tempered through the metallic cavities of his horn leaving ghostly vapor trails as the only evidence of their passing.

Much of the program is like a lengthy conversation of haunted acoustic particles which in turn approximate a range of auditory-induced images: cornhusks dancing in an indigo night breeze, stale air passing through a cavernous coil of aluminum duct work deep in the bowels of some unnamed industrial factory, a corroded spectral zipper being parted and ripping the sonic fabric between timbral boundaries. This is ‘music’ so abstract that it forces complete interpretive freedom on the listener as to any deeper meanings it may possess. Harnessing an array of devilish energies Kelley has created a sirenic document virtually guaranteed to incite fierce and polar opinion and reaction. It will either enthrall or infuriate. In this respect Trumpet shares something in common with the finest works of improvised music, a resolute intolerance for complacent assimilation on the part of its audience.


Title: Trumpet | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: DIW Records

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