Percussionist Brad Dutz has an astounding range of performance and recording credits, from Leo Kottke and Kiss, to Frank Sinatra and Kenny Loggins. On When Manatees Attack, the Los Angles based musical chameleon both inspires and confuses. The result is a strange mix of improvisatory eclecticism rooted within twentieth century classicism. Although compositional in texture, the expressive components contain elements of great surprise, which illustrate the strong improvisational skills of the performers.
Oboist Paul Sherman is based in California and spends much of his time performing classical music. His compositional influences include Carter, Boulez and Ligeti, amd such interests are apparent in the timbre and texture of his instrument. James Sullivan considers bass, contra-alto and contra-bass clarinets to be specialties and also focuses on a great deal of twentieth century performance. Cellist Rachel Arnold is heard only as a texturalist throughout, making her participation less evident or interesting.
The compositions, all of which are written by Dutz, are seemingly titled with an intent to interest strangely. "Spongy Bark begins with a frenetic and disjointed melodic line, which could easily have been written by Carl Stallings in a Stravinsky mood. Dutz's marimba darts through the oboe and bass clarinet. At times, the winds are in unison; elsewhere they are clearly reciting a composed conversation, with composition and improvisation are unequivocally intertwined.
"Insulated Potato Wedges is a lazy yet coherent discourse involving seemingly incompatible musical companions. The cello begins with slow, single tone bowing, providing an ominous undercurrent. The oboe enters with a short expressive melodic line and, as it drifts off, the clarinet continues with an entirely different message of tension. The feeling of great stress continues until the xylophone's frenetic and disjointed passage attempts to create yet another atmosphere of discord. The result is never boring, compelling anticipation of the next turn of phrase or conversation.
"Biff the Salesman is not a diligent spokesman for a rewarding product, but a forgetful reprobate on a frolic of his own. The oboe and marimba dominate much of the proceedings, with the latter providing an undercurrent of manic arpeggios, while the English horn and clarinet state a seemingly haphazard melody in unison. They contin the conversation in a deliberate and clearly cooperative manner, until the instruments each take their own free turn.
Much of the music darts about without a specific melody or tonal center, and also with no specific allegiance or dedication to absolute free form. Dutz's playing propels the group forward throughout, yet it is never clear whether the eventual destination has been determined. The music is restless, yet satisfying; highly polished in its written passages, and also deftly improvised at other times. And never dull.
Spongy Bark; I
Paul Sherman: oboe, English horn; James Sullivan: bass clarinet, G clarinet; Rachel Arnold: cello; Brad Dutz:
marimba, vibes, xylophone, congas, bongos, bones, cajon, rig, doumbec, darabuka, other percussion; Jasper
Dutz: Bb clarinet (3).
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