On Fillmore is bassist Darin Gray and percussionist Glenn
Kotche. One degree of separation from this duo yields artists and groups like
Wilco, Jim O’Rourke, Kronos Quartet, and Chris Corsano. Play the six degrees of separation game and you
arrive virtually everywhere along the creative music spectrum from pop-rock to
freely improvised creative music.
Their fourth release, Extended
Vacation, continues their experimental investigations into compositions
with elastic forms utilizing relatively avant-garde instruments, sounds, and
techniques: electronics, field recordings, unusual percussion, bass grooves,
various small instruments (as referred to on their press release), collage, minimalism,
bird sounds, etc.
Yet for all of its oddness and chaotic mannerisms, EV is a very composed recording with
acoustic bass and vibraphone at its heart. Throughout the seven pieces that
make up the recording, these two voices form its core character by playing
contemplative, intricately written lines with a deliberateness that is
periodically obscured by less traditional voices and musical gestures. The
seven pieces play like a suite forming one large composition in which the
bass/vibraphone parts act as recurring leitmotifs supplying form and context.
with sighs and suppressed laughter (crying?) lurking beneath the pensive,
floating vibraphone lines of “Checking In.” This subliminal, introductory
laughter can come off as a fun and goofy joke, or something more unsettling –
as if the title “Checking In” is intended to mean checking into a mental
institution after cracking up. This buried laughter echoes the same effect used
in Pink Floyd’s classic “Brain Damage” rumored to be about band member Syd
Barrett’s mental instability. The famous quote from that same Floyd song – “Got
to keep the loonies on the path” – is
reflected in another track’s title from EV:
“Off The Path.” And when seen in this context, yet another song title from EV, “Master Moon,” is related to the
album title Dark Side Of The Moon on
which the previously mentioned Floyd song first appeared. Considering all of
this, and the recording’s unwieldy and sometimes near chaotic energy, it’s easy
to interpret the title “Extended Vacation” as referring to Barrett’s tragic and
seemingly permanent vacation from ordinary reality. If that is the intent of EV (not bloody likely…), it’s a
beautiful tribute to the man and one he’d certainly have been very fond of.
Halfway into the eleven minute third track “Daydreaming So
Early,” the written material drifts away exposing an undercurrent soundscape
with a sort of purring motor or someone pulling a hit off an amplified bong.
Are these the field recordings that are mentioned in EV’s press release? Hmmm… Musical research. Like much of the
recording, “Daydreaming” pendulums back and forth between written and free,
subtle and overt. Later in the track, the more traditional compositional
approach floats back into the picture with multiple rhythms superimposed over
one another including vibes and bass lines, bird calls, and march-like snare
drum roll gestures.
“Off The Path” is EV’s best example, or at least the most concrete and overt, of On Fillmore’s
interest in intentionally clashing rhythms. Various percussion instruments
(some mechanical – like an old school typewriter; some more lush like cymbals
and bells) dance over a repeated bass/vibes figure in seemingly unrelated
tempos. Both “Path” and “Daydreaming” show On Fillmore’s penchant for linking
disparate elements to show: 1) how they can compliment each other, or 2) how
much they can clash.
The twelve minute “Extended Vacation” opens with the
recording’s only solo bass section and features this instrument more than any
other track. At times, it uncharacteristically veers close to being a blues.
Gray’s warm tone and fine technique come through as well as his enviable
musical restraint. After being put through similarly creative paces to earlier
tracks, the piece closes with a sort of percussion fantasia featuring
glockenspiel, blocks, some type of pitched percussion, and what sounds like a
steel drum being put through distortion effects pedals all on top of another
repeated bass figure.
Closer “Clearing Out” begins with more machine sounds and
sirens opening into a four chord line cliché, minor key harmonic vamp and a simple
repeated melody building with added parts. As in the previous track, the added
piano is the weakest part of the record seeming somehow out of place and
functioning more as a distraction than another part of the puzzle; but not
distracting enough to bring it too far down. “Clearing Out” ends on an
uncharacteristically light piccardy third which, in the context of the rest of
EV, comes off more kitsch than inspirational.
On Fillmore’s self-titled 2002 release (Locust), “Cave
Crickets” and “Accidental Chase” are great examples of their ability to create
more traditional or popular style instrumental drum ‘n bass grooves. On those
tracks, Gray and Kotche come off as a more accessible version of another
masterful bass ‘n drum duo: William Parker and Hamid Drake. There’s not as much
overt ‘groove’ going on in Extended
Vacation and it’s certainly less accessible than your average rhythm
section project, but it remains a fascinating and detailed darkly atmospheric
experience for the aurally adventurous listener. It’s closer in vibe to their
previous Sleeps With Fishes (Columbia Japan,
2007) than their self-titled release. It remains very challenging but not at
all grating as, for example, some contemporary electronic or free jazz music may
be for the average listener.
On Fillmore’s EV conjures exaggerated or distorted representations of nature similar to Henri
Rousseau’s jungle paintings; exotic bird calls, chaos, beauty, fearful symmetry
and all. At times it may seem the goal on EV is confusion but it is something much deeper, positive, and more difficult to
get to: mystery and wonder.
Tracks: “Master Moon,” “Daydreaming So Early,” “Extended Vacation”