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RT 9323 (2003)
Jeb Bishop: trombone
Kyle Bruckmann: oboe, english horn
Tim Daisy: percussion
Kurt Johnson: bass
Jen Clare Paulson: viola
1. Rather Dour (6:17)
2. Elegy for a Bioled Frog (11:23)
3. Extenuating Circumstances (11:10)
4. Sins of Omission (6:14)
5. Mitigating Factors (13:04)
6. Gearshifts & Parentheticals (9:05)
7. Lonely Woman (3:46)
This music is an attempt to create space for my voice and my instrument within an ever-evolving tradition that hovers at the crossroads of other traditions. The intersection of jazz with what we'll call (for lack of a better term) European art music is by no means a new story - I make no claim to any shocking innovations. At best, I've succeeded in resolving some aesthetic issues in my own musical life. My background is essentially that of a classically trained oboist gradually awakening to the joys of improvisation. Though I have a deep respect for and love of the jazz tradition, it barely factors into my history as a player. Sporadic attempts to operate in that field have left me feeling dissatisfied and a little sheepish. Delving more deeply into "free improvisation" has proved to better suit my instrument and my temperament. But as my improvising has spiraled deeper into explorations of textural abstraction and quiet noise, I've come to feel I've been neglecting other, perhaps more conventional parameters of music: melody, harmony, counterpoint (as my teacher Ed Sarath would say, I wasn't getting enough "vitamin M"). The other primary outlet for my compositional energies, the experimental punk band Lozenge, is largely devoted to polyrhythmic propulsion and campy extremism; while there are certainly plenty of notes flying around, there's not much room for slow motion, subtlety, introspection, melancholy.
That's where Wrack comes in. At their most laissez-faire, these pieces are tributes to four colleagues whose playing I adore: structures that enable me to finagle my friends into improvising together in certain combinations at certain times. But where they are more determinate, the tunes are devised as an excuse to indulge my lyrical side. In my search for coherent contexts that permit a focus on pitch content, I found myself returning again and again to the language of classical modernism. The music of Bartok, Stravinsky, Messaien, and Webern lies very close to my heart, and forms the foundation of my understanding and enjoyment of how notes relate to each other in close proximity. The angularity and pungent clashes pilfered from these models will be readily apparent. More important than the referents themselves, of course, is the function they serve as springboards for some truly inspired playing.
Jay Collins - One Final Note
15 December 2003
Creating a list of jazz or improvised musicians that opt for a double reed instrument as their main vessel for expression is a rather taxing exercise. Sure, Joe Farrell varied his horn choice on occasion, and of course, Yusef Lateef is a great experimenter, although he will always be known as a saxophonist first. Indeed, few, if any have chosen such an instrument as their main focus, perhaps due to the ease with which such muted tones could potentially be lost in the shuffle of improvised music.
Following his own sonic path, classically-trained double reedist Kyle Bruckmann seeks to express himself in a very personal way, exclaiming that, yes indeed, the oboe and English horn can be utilized in this seemingly incompatible environment. As Bruckmann himself states in the liners, his aim is "an attempt to create space for my voice and my instrument within an ever-evolving tradition that hovers at the crossroads of other traditions". Such interest in several traditions is firmly demonstrated through Bruckmann's playing experiences, including work with Scott Rosenberg's large ensemble, the punk band Lozenge, and the double reed trio Corbus. Such "illegitimate" music might shock the fuddy-duddies, but for those with open ears, Bruckmann's conception will prove to be a feast.
As for Bruckmann's Wrack ensemble, he has assembled a quintet with the wonderfully peculiar front-line of Bruckmann, trombonist Jeb Bishop and violist Jen Clare Paulson. They are supported by the crack rhythm team of bassist Kurt Johnson and drummer Tim Daisy. Bruckmann's compositions are a carefully constructed balancing act between a written hybrid of jazz/classical motifs and improvised interplay. These seven compositions (with one non-original) emphasize a dark, reflective sound that thrives on dynamic variance with plenty of room for the session's linchpin Tim Daisy and his absorbing, propulsive drumming textures.
The record begins with the aptly titled, "Rather Dour", a dreary landscape traversed by Bruckmann/Bishop/Paulson over the eventually emerging Johnson/Daisy static pattern. Somewhat similarly, "Elegy For A Boiled Frog" commences as a muted classical theme before the rhythm section's vamp sets the stage for Bishop's jagged, yet lucid lines (proving why he is one of today's pre-eminent trombonists). Daisy not only serves as the backbone for much of the activities here, but also frequently colorizes the terrain, especially on "Extenuating Circumstances" and the sadly beautiful "Mitigating Factors". The group also shows that it has plenty of muscle too (don't worry about Bruckmann, though), as demonstrated on the long crescendo of "Sins Of Omission" and the pleasantly startling "Gearshifts & Parentheticals". The latter features Bishop et al at their most intense, thanks to the inspiration of Daisy's Lytton/Lovens-inspired mechanical sound exploitation. Finally, on Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman", the ensemble cuts to the core of the piece in perhaps the most breathtaking version of this song ever recorded (after Ornette, of course).
This is not your typical jazz or improvised music record and for the sheer adventure of it all, as well as the chance to enjoy some accomplished Chicagoans (and one now ex-Chicagoan, the leader), it is a worthy taste of several considerable talents.
Jason Bivins - Dusted Reviews
How unique is the oboe in jazz and free improvisation? Pretty unique, both in terms of its distinct and idiosyncratic sonorities and in terms of the tiny number of people playing it. Chicagos Bruckmann is one of the leading practitioners of the difficult double-reed instrument, and on this recent release from the splendid Red Toucan imprint he demonstrates his chops as both improviser and composer.
For a highly unusual instrumentation the leader on oboe and English horn, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Tim Daisy on percussion, Kurt Johnson on bass (who is in the experimental punk band Lozenge along with Bruckmann), and Jen Clare Paulson on viola Bruckmann has constructed a half dozen tunes (plus a brief, plucky reharmonized version of Ornettes Lonely Woman) which combine two seemingly improbable approaches: the post-Vandermark Chicagoan tendency to lace together shifting rhythmic bases and free sections, and a decided New Music influence (the classically trained Bruckmann names Bartok, Stravinsky, Messiaen, and Webern as household gods of his, but some reviewers have rightly detected the presence of Feldman and Scelsi) in the granular minimalism of pieces like Elegy for a Boiled Frog and Mitigating Factors. Often as not, the band alternates dour drones with bustling grooves (such as the plangent melody strung across jumpy 7/4 in Boiled Frog).
Bruckmanns pieces are patient constructs that morph slowly and ask the improvisers (who hes very generous about featuring just dig the long Bishop/Paulson duet in Extenuating Circumstances) to build along with the composition rather than blow over or through it. And if the overall mood is as the opening track title suggests Rather Dour, there are more than enough tart improvisational moments and plenty of saucy drumming from Daisy to keep the session vigorous. The cranky, neo-industrial improvisations on Gearshifts & Parentheticals testify to that.
One of the finest examples of Wracks ability to combine turned-up flame with clear-headed attention to texture and space is the brash Sins of Omission. Bishop tussles with Johnson and Daisy, with energy to spare. But youve got to feel that this bands heart is in the long textural studies like Mitigating Factors, where the players get to test their extended techniques out even as they work from space and (relative) silence. Daisy, in particular, is a wonder at tuned percussion on this track.
Wrack should be taken seriously, not only as a thoroughly enjoyable album in its own right, but as a document of exciting new directions from some of Chicagos best players. Highly recommended.
Ken Waxman - Jazz Weekly
WRACK is striking, as woodwind player Kyle Bruckmann steers a quintet of Chicago-based stylists to a color field that takes from both jazz and so-called European Art Music. PHOENIX isn't as remarkable because the dramatic sound clashes Bruckmann has programmed into his music are replaced by gentler concordance from the cooperative band of one Russian, one Italian, one Austrian and an Irish-born Swiss resident. The four attempt to mesh not only so-called jazz and classical influences, but also site-specific ethnic ones as well.
Besides Bruckmann, an oboist and English hornist who has played in chamber groups as well with improvisers like guitarist Scott Fields and used electronics in the EKG duo, the other two players who help propel WRACK's seven compositions have a jazz background. Trombonist Jeb Bishop and percussionist Tim Daisy work in various groups with reedist Ken Vandermark among others.
Here, there doesn't seem to be a track that doesn't befit from Daisy's pointed, often broken rhythms that move from marching band cadences to chilly Webernian implications. Bishop too makes the most of the mutes, mouthpiece buzzes and slide positions that jazzmen introduced to the musical gestalt.
On "Gearshifts & Parenthericals", for instance, his output glides from sonorous, vocalizing noise-making to mid-range grace notes, with a polyphonic sweep created when he, the oboist and violist Jen Clare Paulson sound the same notes in different timbres. Meanwhile, the percussionist supplies pots-and-pans style rattles and some drum stick nerve beats, while bassist Kurt Johnson first appears to using his bow to bang the front of his strings, then chops out counterlines.
Johnson and Daisy function more like a traditional rhythm section behind the main theme on "Extenuating Circumstances", after which Bruckmann's ney-like sound outlines a slinky, shimmering secondary theme. As the tempo slows, Paulson showcases glissandi that overlay elongated horn and 'bone grace notes. Finally, angular percussion work that suggest Xenakis' writing, and a bass continuum give Bishop the base on which to emphasize different slide positions for maximum color variations.
"Elegy for a Boiled Frog" combines many musical strands. It has an oboe part that appears to have migrated from a Tchaikovsky score, pointed sawing from the strings, buzzy, gutbucket trombone lines that could easily make it in a Classic Jazz context, and a concise rat tat tat from the drummer reminiscent of rock.
Not everything works perfectly however. At 13 plus minutes, mitigating factors make the dissonant, dispirited harmonies of "Mitigating Factors" sound less like a Stravinsky tone poem and more like a mood shift. Clip-clop percussion, string bounces and nearly inaudible horn murmurs don't help either. Finally Ornette Coleman's over-recorded "Lonely Woman" is given an inordinately romantic reading that appears to have no improvised part and where the oboe part unfortunately resembles Mitch Miller's saccharine contribution to BIRD WITH STRINGS.
At least Bruckmann has attempted many out-of-the-ordinary conceptions. Although too many of the compositions have overly apologetic titles, he really should express no regrets. Except for a couple of missteps, WRACK is notable modern music that does precisely what it sets out to do: bridge the gap between written and free sounds.
Francois Couture - All Music Guide
Quite different from the highly abstract free improvisation he is best known for and the punkish energy of his group Lozenge, Wrack introduces a new side of Kyle Bruckmann: the jazz composer. First and foremost, this album is about writing tunes. Of course, they leave room to a lot of spontaneous developments and free improv, but they remain largely scored pieces of music. And they are of jazz allegiance, despite the fact that they stretch far out of the genre's mainstream definition. A cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" at the very end of the album plays the role of a signpost, but it indicates only one of several directions. Bruckmann's background in classical music is also a very important landmark to notice. A piece like "Mitigating Factors" draws from the heritage of Giancinto Scelsi and Morton Feldman and pairs what it borrows with Coleman's harmolodics. Add Tim Daisy's soft-touch rolls on the toms and you get a very strange piece, seductive despite its asceticism. Some other tracks are significantly more bombastic, with traces of rock seeping through the cracks. Listening to "Extenuating Circumstances," one immediately thinks of Satoko Fujii's ensemble music (especially with her quartet and orchestras). The difference here lies in the instrumentation. Bruckmann's quintet consists of trombone (Jeb Bishop), viola (Jen Clare Paulson), double bass (Kurt Johnson), and drums (Tim Daisy), with Bruckmann's oboe and English horn taking the lead -- not your usual jazz quintet, not your run-of-the-mill chamber music ensemble either. Bruckmann grabs on to any material he finds, from fusion licks to Stravinsky and extended techniques -- the creaking/squeaking first half of "Gearshifts & Parentheticals" is worlds away from "Extenuating Circumstances." And yet the superior performance of the musicians (Paulson's languid soloing, Bruckmann's ever-graceful, angelic oboe providing the most unlikely counterpart to Bishop's trombone) make it all stick together.
Marc Chénard - Coda magazine
With more than a teint of 20th Century New Music' coloring the proceedings here, the quintet of oboist / English hornist Kyle Bruckmann stands out by virtue of its unique instrumentation. Though anchored by a commonplace bass and drums rhythm section (Kurt Johnson and Tim Daisy), this ensembles front line of trombone (deftly played, as always, by Jeb Bishop), viola (Jen Clare Paulson) and the leaders double reeds is very much out of the ordinary. Because of that, there is an obvious chamber-music slant given to the material, best exemplified in "Mitigating Factors" and in the sumptuous arrangement of the dis's only cover, Ornette's most haunting melody "Lonely Woman", last of the seven cuts. This disc presents a band that is very much at the service of the leaders own vision, yet open enough to allow solo spots to its members. Bishop, in particular, is prominently featured in the blowing parts and often acts as a lead ensemble voice, with the violist being in front less frequently, and the leader even less. Save for one episode where the drummer lapses into simplistic rockish-backbeat, the music eschews obvious ploys, and is thus guided by a good sense of compositional imagination and a considered use of the instruments' timbral possibilities. This disc doesn't leap out and grab you, requiring more attentive listening than the average. Clearly one for the mind's ear.
Nate Dorward - The Squid's Ear
Oboist Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack is a showcase for his work as a composer and arranger, which mines a neo-Third Stream vein with results sometimes resembling early Dave Douglas. Bruckmann's charts have a stately melancholy that suits the somber front line of oboe, trombone and viola. But things are always just a step away from boiling over: with live-wire drummer Tim Daisy in the band things are never going to get too cozy, and he drops in a few nifty surprises, such as the pots-and-pans opening to Gearshifts & Parentheticals and the vehement odd-meter groove of Elegy for a Boiled Frog, which comes straight out of the Vandermark 5 bag. Bruckmann's main turn as an improvising soloist comes on the sad, sinuous dance of Extenuating Circumstances; more often he plays an ensemble role, leaving solo duties to trombonist Jeb Bishop (who's in great form on Sins of Omission) and violist Jen Clare Paulson. The disc's hero, though, is Daisy, who really lets fly on some of these tracks. The drummer sits out the closer, though, a very pretty, through-composed arrangement of Ornette Coleman's Lonely Woman that harkens back to the days when Ornette was being championed by George Schuller and John Lewis.
On Grand Mal, a set of free improvisations recorded in January 2002, Bruckmann is in the company of three Bay Area players, guitarists John Shiurba and Ernesto Diaz-Infante and percussionist Karen Stackpole. The ten improvisations are pithy expositions of sonic texture and color. This is the kind of improvisation that starts with its premisses already in place, rather than with a period of searching for them: on each track a musical situation is quickly and confidently outlined, explored, and rounded-off, sometimes in as little as two minutes. In addition to oboe, Bruckmann plays English horn and the Chinese suona on this date, though the feral sounds he gets out of them make the exact choice of instrument almost immaterial. On some tracks he squawks and clucks in a manner reminiscent of Zorn's classic duck-call period, but his specialty is the multiphonic exploration of a single held note: the results of this kind of sonic incision are not as visceral as they can be on soprano saxophone (see Stéphane Rives' Fibres for a good, recent example), but Bruckmann nonetheless gets under the skin through sheer, demented persistence, notably on the magnificent Catatonic Posturing II. Strong stuff.
Jerry D'Souza - All About Jazz
Kyle Bruckmann has been trained in classical music, which relies on structure. He is also an experimentalist, which requires the deconstruction of structure. In tandem, the two approaches can make for an interesting devolution, as the whole becomes fragmented only to be made whole again. Bruckmann has the acumen to trigger his technical prowess with schematic variables and come up trumps. He does this as he sows the idea in placid waters... or the eye of a storm.
Bruckmanns plane of movement calls for a calm beginning that slowly grows into agitated temper as the other instruments come in. He is often the air on the oboe or English horn while trombonst Jeb Bishop is the earth, the counterpoint, with vigorous, punchy lines. But the quiet one is first and it comes through Mitigating Factors. There is little by way of improvisation here; the advent is dominated by classical music movement, a ripple of fervour finding its whirl about midway via the drums and percussion of Tim Daisy.
The recording also offers a stunning view of Ornette Colemans Lonely Woman. Bruckmann is lyrical; Bishop adds to the dimension with an articulate second voice that never tries to jump to the fore; and Kurt Johnson picks the bass with well spaced lines. All of these parts add up to that succulent body.
A gentle sway brings in Sins of Omission, but soon enough it turns into the joy of commission as the tempo gradually becomes torrid, a change so subtle that the roil is almost in before you notice. Bishop attacks Bruckmanns lines with short jabs and then bleeps and smears as Daisy rips a frenzied rhythm. Modern classicism is the fanfare when these players become Rather Dour, the evolution coming as they all charge into a free-for-all that dissipates as Jen Clare Paulson ebbs the pace and stretches the dramatic pulse on the viola. A treat in all of its manifestations, titles included.