When I first saw Todd Sickafoose's Blood Orange group a couple years ago, I was puzzled about where all the sound was coming from. The five-piece outfit swaggered like a little big band, sending a scad of intersecting lines into the air to make a series of thickly braided flourishes. Evidently, that's a signature trait of Sickafoose the composer-arranger, because the medium-sized ensemble that creates the music on Tiny Resistors can claim a similar victory.
For a guy smitten with elaboration, the New York bassist builds his oft-genial, mildly exotic and somewhat dreamy tunes from simple melodies that state themselves and then multiply into little labyrinths. I occasionally hear it as a blend of the late-period Lounge Lizards and Greg Osby's Sound Theatre. John Lurie and the M-Bass gang milked orchestral ideas from intricate cross-hatches, and Sickafoose does something similar. One of the marvels of the new disc is "Bye Bye Bees," a sweeping piece that starts out in one spot, but ends up in another. The conclusion has elements of its origin, but they're two discrete places -- nice trick. Something similar happens on "Pianos of the 9th Ward," a bittersweet tune that introduces itself as a simple keyboard lament but bids adieu as a brass-'n'-reeds prayer; slow, steady morphing is a key strategy here.
Sickafoose isn't working in a swing vernacular per se. He grew up on rock, has spent lots of time onstage with Ani DiFranco, and claims Tortoise and Bill Frisell as influences. Propulsion and lilt are in full effect on these peices, however. "Everyone Is Going" manages to blend a martial undercurrent and a sweeping grace. Trumpet, trombone, two guitars, drums and some effects help from DiFranco (ukelele) and Andrew Bird (violin) make the program rich.
Rather than each piece being a showcase for a specific soloist, the group is perpetually playing hot potato with shards of melody and textural colors. With this rather selfless tack, this remarkable music -- especially in the ersatz African bounce of "Warm Stone" and the Middle Eastern blues of "Cloud of Dust" -- is bolstered by the one-for-all atmosphere. By holding hands, they've created something unique. *** 1/2 stars
Tiny Resistors is also mentioned in the same issue's "Hot Box" section:
Richly varied in texture and form, Sickafoose's multilayered compositions are full of surprises -- a quirky sound, a sudden shift, a spectral melody. The production and conception is clearly articulated, and the band responds nicely to the changing densities and dynamics. The whole band sounds organic, the two guitars play well off one another and Andrew Bird's violin is especially righteous. -John Corbett
Lost of creative ideas on this mysterious nonet journey, and some cool sounds, both acoustic and electronic...I like the sad textures of "Pianos of the 9th Ward," and "Paper Trombones" is cute. -Paul de Barros
Though a bassist, Sickafoose depends largely on slithering Frisellian guitar lines for his music's identity. But the horn figure prominently, too, bringing almost a big-band feel to the title cut. Alan Ferber's muted trombone is chamringly Ellingtonian on two cuts. -John McDonough
Mr. Sickafoose is also mentioned in a recent Utne Reader article entitled "Bohemia in Brooklyn." Check it out aqui.
Bill Shoemaker reviews the Jeff Gauthier Goatette's House of Return in Downbeat:
Jeff Gauthier is in a distinct minority, having made eclecticism a virtue as a musician, label founder and producer. Spanning wispy ballads and thumping fusion lines, House of Return, the violinist's fifth as a leader, is as resolutely all over the lot as the Cryptogramophone catalog.
Were it not for the obviously close rapport between Gauthier and his cohorts, this would be a scattershot, if not schizoid, album. However, essential continuity is provided by Gauthier's 30-year history with the Cline twins -- Nels and Alex. They were three-quarters of Quartet Music, a woefully unheralded acoustic group that included the late bassist Eric Von Essen, whose nuanced compositions still loom large in his colleagues' repertoire. Von Essen's "Biko's Blues" opens with the mix of airiness and melancholy Wayne Shorter coined on his early Blue Note dates, while "Dissolution" surrounds a heart-rending melody with swells of brushed drums and cymbals, 12-string guitar and piano. They don't just bookend the album, they gauge the depths the Goatette explores.
There are sufficient reminders of these capacities in the intervening tracks. Some are improvised, like Gauthier and Nels Cline's flinty duet on the violinist's often searing title track. Others reflect well-honed compositional strategies, like drummer Alex Cline's use of delicate, violin-led lines on "Dizang." Initially, they cohere washes on gongs, electric guitar and keyboards, and then soothe the ensuring, seething ensemble improvisation. Subsequently, the occasionally obtuse effect and pugilistic passages are destractions, not deal-breakers. Still, someone almost instantly steps to the foreground to re-engage the listener, and it is just as likely that it is bassist Joel Hamilton and keyboardist David Witham who provides the spark as it is Gauthier or the Clines, a measure of the well-balanced talents that comprise the Goatette. ***1/2
Speaking of Downbeat, their 2008 Critics' Poll is in and Crypto scored on their radar yet again:
Guitarist: Nels Cline (#8)
Rising Star, Bass: Devin Hoff (#10)
Rising Star, Producer: Jeff Gauthier (#5)
Two new discs in one day?! What is this, Cryptogramophone Records? Naw, it's our violinist pal Jenny Scheinman, who has been all over the place these days. (She won the #1 spot for "Rising Star Violin" category in Downbeat, fer starters.) Check out her home page for all of the press that's been afforded -- among many other things -- her vocal debut.