Sheila Pell 11 a.m., Oct. 22
Michael Vlatkovich Ensemblio: an autobiography of a pronoun
Trombonist Michael Vlatkovich has been a stalwart presence in the West Coast improvising community for more than 30 years. His compositions and arrangements, which anchor this disc, defy the standard definitions and expectations of jazz, classical, and free-improvisation practices equally.
Vlatkovich aims for a musical presentation that blurs the distinctions between written and improvised material, and, on this disc, the results are a stunning success. There is so much music happening all at once on this album, that it becomes pointless to attach a preconceived notion to any of it.
An Autobiography Of A Pronoun boasts a cast of 11 top-flight musicians--and while there may be a few cuts with everyone on it, the disc features several constants, like the wild violin of Harry Scorzo, who's confident and challenging lines suggest a union of Stuff Smith and Billy Bang, Wayne Peet's keyboards, the honey-toned bass of Anders Swanson and the percolating drums of Mark Burdon.
Add to this mix the resonant cello of Jonathon Golove, the low-end heroics of tuba/euphonium virtuoso William Roper, the Derek Bailey-esque contributions of guitarist Tom McNalley, trumpet antics of Jeff Kaiser and the clarinet work of Brian Walsh, and you've got the makings of a delicious stew of musical mayhem. Ellington Peet is also listed as playing the cymbal, but it was impossible for me to distinguish his contribution from that of Burdon...my bad, I guess.
The disc begins in almost chamber fashion-- Scorzo's violin and Golove's cello over the tinkling percussion, but quickly morphs into an angular trombone/violin melody. The other instruments combine for a clockwork distillation of cacophony underpinning the scraping and clawing of McNalley. The cello seeps in with wide glissandi, then players gradually drop out until it's just arco bass and piano, who solo simultaneously.
Throughout this record, there's a kind of collage, or kaleidoscope feeling that pervades, as instruments, moods, melodies and solos surface, dominate briefly, then recede into other ideas and themes.
Highlights abound: on "More Grey Than White," Scorzo's presence is clearly experienced. I've never heard a violinist quite like this guy before, and he get's a lot of space throughout. Swanson also logs a fiendishly dexterous solo that still leaves room to marvel at his precise timbral control, regardless of velocity.
"Jmz 2." is a feature for the remarkable ideas of the leader, who essays them over a kind of New Orleans groove established by bass and drums. Vlatkovich lets it fly on this one, blowing out nervous, repetitive lines broken up by ecstatic forays of yelping upper register ideas. Peet takes over with a jangling exposition over the skittish drums and manic plucking of Swanson.
"Jzm3," introduces the trumpet melody of Kaiser to the reflective tuba of Roper and the pedaling tones of Vlatkovich. Kaiser eventually takes it out, like way out, with extreme manipulations of register, much in the spirit of the great Lester Bowie. At just over 2 minutes in length, it's all over too soon.
"Little Rubber Arrow and Elephant Sandwich," brings the fluid clarinet of Brian Walsh in, doubling the melody in tandem with the astonishingly nimble tuba work of Roper. This is excellent stuff, coming off like Oliver Nelson meeting Bela Bartok over an intensely driven rhythmic component.
"Explain again why I can't drive faster than the car in front of me," in addition to its hilarious title, is a bluesy free-bop head that utilizes most of the ensemble, driven by the protean walking of Swanson and the creative dissonances of Vlatkovich, Scorzo and Golove, who wrap wicked lines around each other like reptile wrestlers.
Finally, "Queen Dynamo," swings like there's no tomorrow. Trombone, clarinet, violin all get to shine while tuba, bass and drums burn the midnight oil.
An Autobiography Of A Pronoun, is the real deal. This is creative music on the level of Anthony Braxton, Vinny Golia, or anything out there. Another standout release from trumpeter Jeff Kaiser's excellent independent label, pfMENTUM, this is highly recommended, and worth seeking out.
Image of Michael Vlatkovich from michaelvlatkovich.wordpress.com by James Vale