Many avant-garde composers, leaders or conductors employ various mechanisms to instruct the band for a specific composition. Here, longtime New York City alternative composer, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring integrates an all-star lineup for pieces inspired by a random series of numbers, based on shortwave radio stations. Hasslebring iterates that these pieces are hypothetically decoded and provide cryptic instructions for the musicians. However, the album is anything but cryptic as the leader bridges the jazz-rock idiom with New York City downtown scene-like ingenuity amid unanticipated aberrations, solid rock cadences, booming pulses and multileveled montages that often deliver a KO punch.
Hasselbring brings a lot to the table. He has this uncanny propensity to merge catchy melodies with avant expressionism, shifting tides, and steering the band into fierce improvisational segments. With his fluid and blustery lines running point, the program is loaded with striking contrasts; a few false endings and bone-rattling rock choruses, magnified by guitarist Mary Halvorson's crunch chords and off-kilter voicings. "Make Anchor Babies" is typical of the ensemble's divergent output. Featuring a commonplace Latin-jazz motif twisted with oddball digressions, the musicians yield a hazy image of conventional fare. They dispense rowdy progressive-jazz expansions, ballsy horns passages, and maniacal breakdowns. And on other tracks, the band merges torrid free-form jaunts with delightful harmonic content.
Vibraphonist Matt Moran either sweetens the pot or swerves his band-mates into complex improvisational movements, often leading to decomposition efforts and pumping beats. On the piece that delineates a numeric, "37®, 56' by 111®," Halvorson and bassist Trevor Dunn implement a simple groove, leading to a song-form that sounds like an avant-garde spin on an ancient pop piece. It's a mover and shaker, but a lighthearted romp with smooth horns and a straight-four metric.
Hasselbring and associates hit all the right notes and fuse a very complex mindset into a vastly entertaining endeavor that increases the program's breadth, offering a consolidated view of many musical worlds.
Track Listing: First Bus To Bismarck; Tux Is Traitor; Make Anchor Babies; Green Dress, Maryland Welcome Center, 95 NB; It's Not A Bunny; Stereo Jack's, Bluegrass J's; Avoid Sprinter; 37° 56' 39" By 111° 32'.
Personnel: Curtis Hasselbring: trombone, guitar; Chris Speed; tenor saxophone, clarinet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Trevor Dunn: acoustic bass, electric bass; Matt Moran: vibraphone, marimba; Ches Smith: drums, marimba; Satoshi Takeishi: drums, percussion.