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Grosse Abfahrt: Vanity (2009)

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Grosse Abfahrt: Vanity How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

What happens when serious musicians get together to examine the character and proclivities of a society, as broadcast via the identification plates on the cars of the people that drive them? The music that describes their very public personalities makes for an ironic, slightly mocking, yet always hilarious look into the "stamped-metal bumper culture expressions" of this society. Grosse Abfahrt, an eight-piece chamber ensemble, takes this society to task on Vanity, an interpretation of this bumper-culture with a ten-piece suite.

Trumpet player and electronics artist Tom Djll is responsible for putting the ensemble together. Every musician is there by design. Although the selected musicians give a fine account of themselves, Djll could have—at best—expected the unexpected when this project came together. It sounds as if nothing could have been written here. The personalities described in "Mo Frippy" and "Hang Bat5 Over" are largely a matter of conjecture, but it turns out both are apt, with the former like a super-charged surfer and the latter a mock-sinister, make-believe vampire. The album is full of such characters and—make no mistake—they are all wondrous, to say the least.

Clearly this music meant for the serious people-watcher of the 21st century. It begins to describe a social pastime with "Sportsman's Paradise Music LA," the minute-long overture of the suite. This is followed by five short sketches and a long one—"Hang Bat5 Over"—that are all interpretations of the vanity license plates. The "audience" is meant to "take a ride" with the musicians. Halfway through the "sport," the perspective is flipped with a longer interlude entitled "CA Mirror," a look at life through the rear-view mirror. What results is a sheet of sound obverse to the first half of the musical experience of the suite, which concludes with a brilliant re-statement of the theme of the sport in "Live Free or Die Delphi2."

Clearly each of the musicians is completely immersed in the project, for it resounds with impulsively created phrases and lines, yet deeply committed musicianship. The fact that there is a subject exciting and creative enough to describe makes for half the motivation for the musicians to compose on the fly. However, this is still the music of the 21st century, and it falls somewhere between wholly improvised and thematically composed.

Does it work? The fact that it can be listened to and enjoyed more than once must say a lot more than expected about the permanence of the suite in an impermanent world.

Track Listing: Sportsman's Paradise Music LA; Mo Frippy; Hi L8R Bra; Hang Bat5 Over; CA Mirror; Cthlhu Kids First; Zoundz--Yours to Discover; May Cal Oknotok; Kablamo; Live Free or Die Delphi2.

Personnel: Tom Djll: trumpet, preparations and electronics; Matt Ingalls: clarinet and bass clarinet; Theresa Wong: violoncello; David Chiesa: double-bass; John Shiurba: electric guitar; Gino Robair: energized surfaces and voltage made audible; Tim Perkis: electronics.

Record Label: Emanem

Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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