Marty Graham 7:22 p.m., June 21
Dan Clucas's Lost Iguana Ensemble: Do You Know The Ways
L.A. cornetist/flutist Dan Clucas' new release with his Lost Iguana Ensemble, Do You Know The Ways contains just four pieces, though two of them clock in at more than 20 minutes each. Those two were composed by the hornman while the remaining two are collective improvisations.
The disc opens with "Chaparral," a sprawling, moody piece that begins with Clucas navigating the divide between the delicacy of Don Cherry and the more extroverted expressions of Lester Bowie. Slowly, the bowed cymbals of drummer Dave Wayne enter, followed by the dark arco lines of cellist Jessica Catron. The bottom-end is handled by the remarkably fluid tuba of Mark Weaver. Since there are two drummers in the Lost Iguana Ensemble, ( Brian Christopher is on the other kit), it's hard to single out who's doing what, but both men play with a quiet urgency, frequently concentrating on micro-gestures. "Chaparral," is episodic, with many scene changes and lots of solo cornet work. Wayne also handles electronics, which bubble to the surface in quiet moments. Catron's cello is particularly active throughout, either with resonant lines or furtive scrapes. It's hard to imagine two instruments more different than the cornet and the flute, but Clucas seems equally adept at either in this piece.
There is a seamless transition into "Ask Possum," which hovers in a gloomy atmospheric bog, illuminated by the leader's extended techniques and the valve-popping alacrity of Weaver. This is highly controlled free music, all of the players keeping a tight lid on their volume. Clucas slips the Harmon mute on for some Miles-ian musings, and Catrone stirs things up with some animated ponticello bowing.
Long, drawn tones introduce "Boulevard," another Clucas original. Weaver lets loose with a multinote cadenza over the hyper-quiet brushstrokes and choked cymbal thwacks of the percussionists, then Clucas enters with waves of tart smearing. Catron and Weaver engage in a low-toned dialog while everyone else lays out. When Clucas returns, it is with wicked tonal distortions, a la Bowie or Bill Dixon.
Indeed, there is a heavy Art Ensemble of Chicago vibe happening here, with an emphasis on the unexpected. Each member gets their moment to shine, without ever resorting to the "head-solos-head" format.
There is a kind of hushed dreamscape that guides the proceedings. Even when Clucas dials up the intensity, the drummers get busy, rather than loud. One of the greatest things about this disc is the amount of open space--allowing for moments like the pizzicato cello/cornet interlude about three quarters through "Boulevard."
Cornet repetitions course over the nervous bowed fragments of the cello, while the tuba dives into the netherworld and the drums hiss and percolate on "Ask Peacock." Amazingly, the improvised tracks, like this one, carry the same compositional weight as the notated ones. This is a group of virtuoso listeners.
Dark, spooky stuff. Highly recommended to those who enjoy sonic exploration.
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