issue 20 :: September 2011

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Review: Ron Anderson

Secret Curve CD [Tzadik]

Tzadik is a highly frustrating label in my opinion. The artwork and packaging is always attractive and it’s impossible to find fault with the basic mission statement behind their near prodigious amount of output. But then I feel exactly the same way about label-head John Zorn – on paper he is my favorite musician in the world but in practice I hardly enjoy anything he does. For some reason this brand new set of highly muscular instrumental-art-rock-with-jazz-pretentions falls under their umbrella of “composer series.” The core group is a trio with Ron Anderson keeping to electric bass (though it reads that he is usually a guitar player), Keith Abrams on drums, and Tim Byrnes on trumpet, French horn, and keyboard. Fleshing out the sound are several quite good guests, most notably Anthony Coleman on piano (unfortunately only for a single track), Jerome Noetinger on electronics and tape manipulation, and Eve Risser on piano for a few spots.
The mix for the entire recording is very drums intensive, which was tiring to my ear within just a couple of pieces. Luckily both pianists add a combination of dense clusters and melodic moments to shift the emphasis slightly away from that annoyingly trebly bass playing, but it doesn’t last long. Things briefly open up on the fifth track, “Caro-Kann,” which features some nice interplay between Tim Byrnes’s trumpet and guest violinist Tom Swafford. This is also the only time that Jerome Noetinger’s electronics are treated with much respect in the mix and the color field widens to a less claustrophobic palette. There are then six more tracks of needlessly busy jazz-rock very much like the first half. There is also one egregiously awful track, number eight called “E4 or D4?” in which a tape loop decasia of drums and bass gets manipulated and DJ scratches added. For much better examples of nerdy art rock done well we luckily have the entire Frank Zappa catalog, or see Gregg Bendian’s Interzone quartet recordings, or just go buy a couple of Ruins albums. And if you really want to like Tzadik there is the New Japan series, or John Zorn’s own Masada Bar Kokhba ensembles.
Review by Jacob Green, a musician and film lover living in Austin, Texas.
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