Indianapolis-based guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine took his inspiration from iconic American novelist Kurt Vonnegut for this project, the most complex set of music in his already lengthy and varied recording career. He was joined by fellow Indianapolis musicians: saxophonist Rob Dixon, saxophonist/clarinetist Amanda Gardier, pianist Mina Keohane, bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Cassius M. Goens III. Dixon, Gardier and Wittman have appeared on several prior Ballantine recordings, so there is a strong base of shared experience to draw upon.
Kurt Vonnegut also came from Indianapolis, and Ballantine feels that they share a typically Midwestern cynicism and dark humor. "Sympathy for Malachi Constant" (a character from 1959's The Sirens of Titan) opens the album with a tuneful, slightly off-kilter march, and features Gardier's lyrical alto saxophone solo. "The Mind of Dwayne Hoover" (from Breakfast of Champions, from 1973) is a driving hard bop anthem which pares down to a trio for Ballantine's expansive jazz/rock solo. "Eloise Metzger" features Rob Funkhouser's music box in the introduction and the coda, setting up an atmosphere of dream-like melancholy: appropriate for a character who was an accidental gunshot victim in Deadeye Dick (1982).
"Unk" is a lovely acoustic guitar/double bass duet on the main theme of "Sympathy for Malachi Constant" (Unk was the character's other name in Sirens of Titan). A repeated riff drives "No Damn Cat, No Damn Cradle" (a reference to the central irony in 1963's Cat's Cradle) forward, featuring Dixon's tenor saxophone solo. "Space Wanderer" is another brief rearrangement of the "Malachi Constant" theme, this time with Ballantine dubbing electric guitar over the acoustic guitar/bass duet. "Kilgore in Breakfast of Champions" (a second reference to the recurring character of science fiction author Kilgore Trout) goes back to bebop, with a theme reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. "So It Goes" (a repeated stoic refrain in 1969's Slaughterhouse-Five) is a lovely acoustic guitar solo which fittingly concludes the album.
It should be noted that familiarity with Vonnegut's writing is definitely not required to appreciate what Ballantine has done here: it stands on its own as one of his finest albums. But he would no doubt be pleased if some listeners were moved to investigate the source of his inspiration.
Sympathy for Malachi Constant; The Mind of Dwayne Hoover; Eloise Metzger; Unk; Kilgore in Timequake; No Damn Cat, No Damn Cradle; Space Wanderer; Kilgore in Breakfast of Champions; So It Goes.
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