NOT SOME BORING TRIO: Center Stage Theater underwent a sonic remodeling on
Monday, as the Headless Household�with Joe Woodard on guitar, Dick Dunlap on
keys, and Tom Lackner on percussives, plus close to a dozen talented musical
aides�dropped its annual December dose of jazz eclectico. The blast-off was
�Plaything,� an aptly titled Dunlap number that featured Lackner playing
children�s squeeze toys before delivering the most adventurous drum beat ever
imagined upon a plastic Playskool drumset. Woodard, his face frozen in the
�look-what-I-made� smirk, walked around handing out various childish
noisemakers, and the night�comprised mostly of songs from the new HH album
Blur Joan�was rolling.
Filling in for founding bassist Chris
Symer was the rotating duo of Jim Connolly and David Piltch, and the role of
vocalist was shared nicely between Julie Christensen�s voicebox and Tom
Buckner�s singing sax. Rounding out the guests were Jeff Kaiser on trumpets,
Bill Flores on pedal steel (perfect for �A World Without Polka,� one of the
older faves), Tom Ball on harps, and, on elegant strings, cellist Claudia Kiser
and violinist Sally Barr.
The night�s 14 songs ranged from the
twangy paced �3 a.m. Western� and the more pensive �Buffoons� to the R&B fun of
�My Left Brain� and the frenetic �Blur Joan,� which showed off Lackner�s ability
to produce a rapid rhythm that even crystal-meth heads could dig. And leading it
all was Woodard, whose guitar mastery allows him to use his instrument as subtly
as a conductor�s wand or to take center stage, using a slide to emulate sounds
of a deejay scratching vinyl or plucking ever so tightly to evoke the internal
monologues of a computer. What a weird, wonderful, wacky wreck, once again.
klezmer, polka has seen a recent spike in popularity thanks to its
inability to be dreary. The simple one-two-three
rhythm and high-register horns and woodwinds of traditional polkas lead to
flights of giddiness, not drudge, which may explain its appeal as a decidedly
old-school antidote to the new American grunge. Although polka has always been
an element of Headless Household's repertoire, guitarist Joe Woodard shepherded
the band down the path of a polka-themed album over the past two years. The
result is the aptly-named Post Polka, a mix of updated standards, skewed
homages and deconstructions of the classic polka form.
Almost every song here benefits from unusual
arrangement or instrumentation choices, veering closer to a Soul Coughing fever
dream than a classical polka album. But while this isn't your grandparents'
polka, it isn't Weird Al's pop-culture mockery, either. Headless Household are
men who understand the need to balance irreverence with reverence, who realize
that the clarinet can be ominous, who know that clowns are scary. You may laugh
withPost Polka's selections, but you'll never laugh at
them -- Woodard and his bandmates are too deft for that. Instead, you may find
yourself charmed by the cabaret-style "Days of the Week", bobbing your head to
the jazzy waltz of "Wyatt's Burp" and rocking out to the crunchy guitar and
oompah oomph of "Here's to the Heimlich Maneuver". You may even find yourself
aspiring to join the "polka party posse" of "Spencer the Polka Dispenser",
accompanied by whispering backup singers and a blues harmonica. Or, if you're as
disturbed as I am, you may find yourself unintentionally turned on by former
Leonard Cohen collaborator Julie Christensen and the "Polkettes" as they
vocalize an eerily seductive meditation on the pigs-as-love-metaphor in "Puck's
Polka". (Never before has a woman punctuating her verses with a comely "oink
oink" been so alluring...)
When Headless Household stray farthest from the
polka blueprint, as on the delightful jazz-rock fusion of "Picture of Health",
they produce the album's most impressive cuts. "Divertimental" is a
semi-orchestral recasting of "Puck's Polka" as recalibrated by running the
original sheet music through a computer program. And the string-and-xylophone
heavy instrumental "Bolka" is a delightfully moving closer. And for indie head-scratchers
everywhere, former Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips lends his voice
to a pair of tracks, including the Burt Bacharach-esque "Moderate Moderation".
It goes without saying that Post Polka is
not for everyone. Not only do you need a healthy admiration for Eastern European
music -- or at least a healthy indifference toward it -- to appreciate Headless
Household's revisionist take, but a willingness to expand your horizons and a
broad sense of humor will help immensely. Still, despite the relative taboo of
polka itself among the "forget where you came from" generation, I'd recommend
Post Polka to anyone willing to wrap their head around it. After all, when's
the last time you heard an album that refused to let you down?
(Headless Household, Household Ink HI-133) I'm impressed that a
terrific free-jazz ensemble would put out a polka album. These guys are
really good; if only they leaned a bit more towards the polkas and bit less
towards the free jazz, I'd like this album more. In spite of my rating, if
you're interested in the nexus of jazz and polka, buy this CD. C [1-4-04]
--Barry Nostradamus Sher
(Santa Barbara Independent, 12-11-03)
Mod Polkarama Celebrating 20 Years of
Headless Household by D.J. Palladino
We can rock,� said Josef
Woodard, my Arts writer colleague and guitarist nonpareil of that
super-longitudinally blessed band�in business now for 20 years�wisely,
whimsically dubbed Headless Household. �Yes, we can,� agreed sound
artist and keyboard-playing bandmate Dick Dunlap, waxing unusually gregarious as
we huddled in his Mission-area studio, a converted carriage house that was the
band�s birthplace back when a former Hollywood actress ran the country based on
horoscopes. Perhaps only Ernie and the Emperors can claim more epic historical
sweep in city music spheres. �But it�s rock-ish,� explained
Woodard, glancing around the computer- and keyboard-crowded room, smiling
happily. �Everything we do is -ish.� And now the usually fusion-ish
four have gone all polka-ish, too. Co-starring the insistent, melodic drums of
Tom Lackner and wondrously variegated bassist Chris Symer, Headless Household�s
sixth album, entitled post-Polka, explores a seemingly lumpen musical realm with
joy. One which they promise to perform with �clat and a lot of help from their
musical friends at their annual holiday show at Center Stage next Monday night.
�I take total blame for this one,� laughed Woodard, confessing at length his
inordinate care for the one-two, one-two polka beat that originated in Germany
but stretched across the American heartland and into Tex-Mex dancehalls. First
motivated by the great former KCSB disc jockey Greg Drust�s once-weekly polka
show, now heard on Internet radio, Woodard found it hard to shake the music. �I
found myself bumping into Lawrence Welk on television and loving it,� he said.
�Myron Florin was great,� said Dunlap of Welk�s famed co-accordionist. Woodard even felt compelled to
make an entire record of it. Though they have a few polka tunes in the
repertoire, it wasn�t exactly a band slam-dunk. �When I first came up with the
idea, these guys didn�t believe it would be an album,� said Woodard. But he
remained faithful. In his witty and acute liner notes, Drust reports that
Charlie Mingus once advised freely, �White man, study your polka.� This being
Headless Household, they not only studied it, they took it apart and put it back
together fixed-ish. �Speaking for the elitist
members of the band,� half-joked Dunlap, �I have to say it was a little scary.
We agreed to do it, and then found out as a surprise we could do it pretty
well,� he said. And it�s reflected in the approaches. The disc opens with a favorite
old Household song called �Days of the Week.� Sung by the glorious Julie
Christensen, who once warbled backup for the meticulous Leonard Cohen, it
freezes the correct amount of Kurt Weill�art song at the cabaret�then segues
into �A World without Polka,� which takes Weill out into the stratosphere,
stratocasting. The stage thus set, a number of fabulous music scene irregulars
turn in depth-defying investigations of the form. People like Glen Phillips,
Spencer Barnitz, Nate Birkey, Jim Connolly, Ellen Turner � and Bill Flores on
pedal steel. �We even had Tom Ball on the record,� said Woodard of the popular
country blues harmonica-man. �He heard a cut at the Riviera Studio and asked if
he could do something on the record,� said Woodard. �And he sounds great,� said
Dunlap. Among the more remarkable
departures into sonic space, however, is �Divertimental,� which was contributed
by drummer Lackner. �It has a very interesting story,� explained Woodard. �Tom�s
father [the late German novelist Stephan Lackner] once wrote a polka, called
�Puck�s Polka��Puck was his wife�s nickname.� Lackner fils found the sheet music
and the band recorded a version of the song, which is also on the record. But
then Lackner ran the song through a computer program. �He deconstructed it, and
gave it to us. It�s really beautiful.� Household History The Household is frequently
compared to the likes of Steely Dan, Captain Beefheart, the Band, Ornette
Coleman, and lesser known luminaries like the Golden Palominos and Penguin Caf�
Orchestra, who all influenced, no doubt. In a way it all began with Woodard, who
grew up in Santa Barbara and even played a lot of Bad Company in a garage band
with Symer while attending San Marcos. After high school, the polymath Woodard
began playing in bands while working toward a career as an Arts writer. (He
writes fluently in languages as diverse as award-winning jazz criticism, film
history, and contemporary art, in Santa Barbara as well as such national
magazines as Downbeat and Guitar Player.) During these twin pursuits,
Woodard, who was breaking away from playing in Top 40 bands, met Dunlap while
writing a cover story about sound artists for the L.A. Reader in the late 1970s.
Dunlap had moved to the city with his wife Arlene�an up-and-coming star of the
art world who painted�then suddenly became obsessed with noise. He and artist
friends and a sound-on-sound recorder began experimenting on the edges of sonic
frissons, using everything from long hollow tubes to rubber-band snaps. Lackner,
who grew up between Montecito and Germany, was already spread impressively over
the music scene. Nobody quite agrees who introduced whom, but by 1983 they were
already gigging on the Mesa at Baudelaire�s. �Claire Rabe was a great supporter
of what we were doing then,� said Woodard, referring to the much-lamented club
owner and novelist who died last fall. They began recording right
away, too. �I�m the least of the musicians in the band,� said Woodard, �but
somehow the one who writes the most. It�s my outlet,� he said, and I guess he
means away from the arduous strains of writing about the arts. �I give them what
I�ve got and then Dick fixes my mistakes,� said Woodard. The rest of the players
in this open band are people from the music scene who draw themselves toward the
group by either accident or inclination. �We�re always looking for excellent
musicians who aren�t afraid to make fools of themselves,� said Woodard. Many of
these motley virtuosos will be at the Xmas fest on Monday, December 15. In the meantime, Woodard seems
happy with the polka fix and happily the band has begun to move along, too.
�Dick loves polka now,� said Woodard, laughing. �We�ve already recorded a couple
of tracks for our next project,� he said. �But this next stuff will be a lot
more normal,� said Woodard. Of course, he probably means a
lot more normal-ish. Headless Household performs
Mon., Dec. 15, 8 p.m., at Center Stage
Theater. Call 963-0408.
Barabara News Press,
Headless Household core group, from left: Joe Woodard (guitar),
Tom Lackner (drums) and Dick Dunlap (keyboards). Not pictured:
Chris Symer (bass)
Polka in the house
HEADLESS HOUSEHOLD MIX JAZZ AND POLKA FOR 20TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
HEADLESS HOUSEHOLD'S 20TH
ANNIVERSARY CONCERT When: 8 p.m.
Monday Where: Center
Stage Theater, upstairs in the Paseo Nuevo mall Cost: $10
general; $7 students Information:
963-0408 or www.centerstagetheater.org
By Ted Mills
Headless Household may be Santa Barbara's worst-kept secret or its
best-known unknown band.
For 20 years this quartet of quasi-jazz, post-post-rock musicians has
been flying low, stealth bombing musical weirdness into our fair city
with a handful of CD releases and a series of annual concerts at the
Center Stage Theater. The drummer, Tom Lackner, comes from the great
Lackner clan of artists who make their home here. Keyboardist and sonic
manipulator Dick Dunlap is an award-winning composer. Bassist Chris
Symer has been gaining a reputation among the South Coast music scene -
especially since the Knitting Factory has opened up a space in Los
Angeles. And guitarist and lead idea man Josef Woodard is a journalist
whose work regulary appears in Scene and the News-Press. (Full
disclosure: The band, in altered form, wrote a beautiful soundtrack for
my short film in 2000.)
The Household make a sound located between uncompromising and
twisted, guaranteeing their cult fame and obscurity. On Monday, the band
will not only celebrate 20 years of Headlessness, but also promote its
latest CD, "Post Polka," a collection of straight-up polka tunes and
They're jazz fans, yes. Listen to their wild workouts on 2000's "Mockhausen."
But, polka? Where did that come from?
"This polka bug may have started with the fact that I was born in
Iowa and have German blood, which makes me predisposed to the oompah
impulse," says Woodard, who had to slowly convince the others of this
And in fact, the polka has always been a part of the band, just very
hidden. "Isle of Hugh," from its debut eponymous album from 1987, is a
polka tune. "Pig in a Polka" is another, from 1999's "Items."
"I just love the defiant cheer of this music," he says, "and the
musicianship you find tucked into those bright-colored upbeats. It has
none of the angst, irony, or world-weariness of most pop music. That's a
Woodard is also quick to point out that polka is never that far away
from us in Santa Barbara. "It's almost invisible, until you realize that
much of what you hear on KSPE is the Mexican variation on the polka
groove, through the styles of Tejano and Tex Mex. That's some of the
most exciting accordion and trumpet and tuba playing you'll hear in
public, in Southern California! Distorted guitars are way overrated:
This is the real musical hot sauce."
The tunes on "Post Polka" are hot, yes, but also bathed in a cool,
wistful, blue light. Headless Household, and Woodard's compositions
especially, even when they're blazing head on, contain a melancholic
tone. It's as if the joy within has since been and gone, and all that's
left are the memories to sing about. This is balanced by Woodard's
penchant for playful lyrics, hinted at from the song titles: "A World
Without Polka," "Wyatt's Burp," "Splinkety Polka" and "Here's to the
Heimlich Maneuver." Also of note is "Puck's Polka," a tune written in
the 1950s by Tom's father, the late Stephan Lackner. Tom created a
variation on the tune later on the album, called "Divertimental."
Listeners might also detect the influence of Kurt Weill, whose own
angular take on pop conventions shadow the CD.
"Weill is definitely one of my biggest heroes," Woodard admits. "Few
people had such a clear grasp of how flexible popular music could be,
and how it's possible to inject experimental harmonic ideas,
polytonality and seemingly strange materials without skipping a beat or
scaring away more conventional listeners. You can hear his influence on
Bernstein and Bacharach and Zappa and Bill Frisell and too many American
oddballs to mention."
That list of artists, give or take a few ingredients, makes up the
primordial soup from which the Household arose in 1983. At the time, the
goal of the quartet was to "play music that nobody else was playing in
town." This was the time of the New Music scene in New York. John Zorn,
Eugene Chadbourne and Bill Frisell were playing gigs. The Knitting
Factory opened. "Jazz was fusing with post-punk, avant garde noise,
European cabaret, and any other inkling you could make fit into a
package," Woodard notes. The Southern California jazz scene was awash in
slick fusion. Headless Household set out to bring that New York sound to
town and be anti-slick.
"I should say it helped that the beloved bohemian club on lower State
(Street) known as Baudelaire's - run by Claire Rabe, who just passed
away - partly made it possible. She gave us encouragement and a place to
work out this evolving organism."
It took until 1987 for the band to release their first album, back in
the days when there were no CD burners or cheap deals - vinyl was an
expensive proposition. "I'm sure it helped solidify our identity enough
to keep us plugging along all these years. Live shows are great to do,
but recordings are forever," Woodard says.
Monday night's concert returns the band to the Center Stage Theater,
a locale that has been kind to Santa Barbaran artists of all kinds. "We
were getting tired of playing in noisy clubs with patrons who might
understand what we were up to - or just as often not. We also wanted to
be in control of the performance setting," he says. It will be their
14th appearance there, and Woodard fondly remembers the first concert,
performed on a stage set for a current production of "A Christmas
Carol," "a bleak London ambience offset by our strange amalgam of avant
and Americana sounds"
As is typical with Household events and albums, the show will feature
a who's who of Santa Barbaran musicians: trumpeter Nate Birkey, bassman
Jeff Connolly, vocalists Glenn Phillips, Ellen Turner, Julie
Christensen, and Allegra Heidelinde, bluegrass musician Tom Ball,
saxophonist Tom Buckner and many more.
With so many guests, isn't the band worried that it'll be obscured?
"We've always had this problem of being into music and musicians and
wanting to keep our identity flexible enough to include others in our
strange, non-exclusive party," Woodard says. "It's the 'polka posse'
sensation. We really should just see if we can do an album on a
members-only basis, like we did in the beginning, when there was a lot
more free jamming. Maybe that's the next one. But probably not."
Few bands could say they�ve enjoyed constant success traveling outside the
beltway of commercial music. Nearly none could maintain an audience playing just
one or two concerts a year, especially playing music that delves into discord.
But whatever tools Headless Household has used to carve its niche seem to have
created an enduring gravure as the band busily celebrated its 20th anniversary
this year with a new album, �post-Polka,� and three gigs within the past month
and a half. Joe Woodard, guitarist and main composer for the group, sheds some
light on the band�s eccentric success.
Daniel Okamura: How did Headless Household get started?
Joe Woodard: Back in the early �80s, we were four musicians doing various things
and � we all felt that we wanted to create a band that was completely different
from anything we were doing or hearing in Santa Barbara. � It was sort of a
coming together of people, of experimental musicians who wanted to try something
DO: What has this year brought for the band?
JW: Well, this year is kind of a big year for us in that this album took a lot
of effort � it basically took two years. � I�m really gonna send it out and see
what happens with this one. I think it might have more of a commercial life than
our other albums, which tend to be more eclectic and hard for people to get an
easy handle on.
DO: There are certainly more vocal tracks on this album.
JW: That�s true, and we might get criticized for that by some people in the more
experimental and the new music world. C�est la vie (laughs). I believe you can
mix it all up and get away with it.
DO: (The polka tunes) sound like they could be in a Danny Elfman film score. Are
any of you Oingo Boingo fans?
JW: It�s more a matter of being influenced by the same things that they were.
Like, I know that they were big Frank Zappa fans, and that certainly describes
us. � But I would say that � as crazy as they could be, everything was pretty
neat, whereas we like to get sloppy at times. � It�s almost like dancing on the
verge of chaos without succumbing completely.
DO: What changes has the band seen in the last 20 years?
JW: I should qualify that by saying that a lot of years, we only played one
concert. � Part of it was our changing environment because when we started,
there were more places to play this wacky stuff.
DO: Was Santa Barbara�s music scene more open then?
JW: I think so. I think we grew out of that. Like, there was this great little
quasi-Bohemian club called Baudelaire�s. � And it was run by this poet and
novelist, Claire Rabe, who just passed away a couple months ago. ... I think
that was more typical of that era. It was just more open and liberal. You didn�t
have to fit into a specific style or play dance music and so that suited us
DO: So what keeps Headless Household together?
JW: It�s probably the sparseness of our creative time that we put into this. It
basically happens in concentrated doses. � If we were playing this all the time,
I�m sure we�d burn out. Members have quit before, only to come back the next
week. I think that there�s something about this project that�s stubborn and it
I�m hoping to get this music out there as much as I can while still
understanding that some people will just be confused or worse. � I don�t want to
be a bother to anyone, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are
yearning to hear something new.
DO: There are a lot of collaborators on �post-Polka.� How did that come about?
JW: That was part of what elongated the process. � What was so exciting, what
kept us going in that direction was that all the musicians loved doing it �cause
they just don�t get a chance to do off-beat stuff, so when they do, they throw
themselves into it.
Through multi-tracking, Jeff
Elliott creates a whole brass section in order tointerpret his
collection of original compositions. He�s written pieces thatexplore various aspects of the jazz world, from close at hand to the
otherside. While touring with Flora Purim and Airto,
he experienced the naturalbeauty of a jungle first hand.
And while touring with Les McCann and EddieHarris, he
realized that jazz has to grow if it�s to survive. Put those two and twotogether, and you have an eclectic
project that serves the fifty-year old trumpeter.
EIliott has added a rhythm section, a saxophonist, and
several others to hisformula. Each piece paints a
different aspect of the music industry and of the
world around us. "Denham Blues" soars eloquently along city streets, as theleader�s open horn is supported fiercely by tenor saxophonist Vince
Denham,pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Randy Tico and
drummer Mike Clark. Eachshares the trumpeter�s
sincere desire to extend jazz beyond bebop and swing.
"Harbor Nights" struts confidently with a funk-driven backbeat, while "TheResurrection of Joey Crown" carries with it a detailed story and
treasuredmemories of the way jazz was depicted on television some forty years ago.
�A Hard Win" contains traces of
Miles; "A.D.H.D." recalls the fire andforce of Dizzy;
and "Weather Monk" flips along comfortably with bouncingrhythmic and harmonic surprises.
From the contemporary scene, Elliott depictsthe
desert, the ocean, a dance club, and a rainforest. "Jungle River" flows smoothlyand evenly through serene landscapes that contain hidden forces, which
Elliottcommunicates convincingly via trumpet, flugelhorn, baritone horn and
keyboards.Eddie Harris has left his thumbprint all over Elliott�s
score, which has enabledthe trumpeter to create a highly recommended project that exhibits the
growthof jazz in all directions.
In Between's final track, guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Woodard
ponders "the unbearable art of traveling light, stripping down to just the
things you really need." You could take it as a metaphor for the whole
album, which applies a corrosive, surface-stripping intelligence to the souped-up
pop standards by which we judge songs.
The tracks on Between seem slight and atmospheric on first listen, but
blossom slowly. For instance, my initial impression of the album opener
"Its Merry Way" was that while it was about songs that stick in your
head, it was not one of them itself. A day or two later, I found myself humming
it in the grocery store. Similarly, the cascading downward scale notes on the
title track initially refused to coalesce into melody for me, yet later took on
a kind of wandering inevitability.
In the best tracks, Woodard, guitarist in Santa Barbara's Headless Household,
combines thoughtful, unexpected guitar playing, intellectually twisted yet
painfully honest lyrics and heartfelt singing. These elements don't come
together on every track, but when they do, the result is a slippery, undefinable
charm. "Grown Men Cry", for instance, may be all mood and no melody,
yet the waltz-time "Anthony Robbins" skewers the self-help guru with
lazy Clem Snide precision.
Like Headless Household, Woodard blends and borrows genres -- folk, country,
jazz and world -- with abandon. "News Flash", an ode to Toronto's boho
Queen Street, puts a sleepy jazz bass line under the electric keyboards and
tingling cymbals of sedated swing. Sax and xylophone tones build on the
late-night vibe in a dark, seedy vision. The two "Cartilege" pieces
(connective tissue, I guess) are more overtly experimental -- the first
electronically manipulated, the second a jagged counterpoint of oddly tuned
Still, most of the tracks on Between are recognizable folk songs. They
diverge from the standard with subtle lyrics and unexpected chord changes, yet
they are still, first and foremost, songs. "Songs will come and go, they
seize your mind just as if they own the joint," Woodard sings. That's true
of many of the tracks on Between, but only if you give them time to take
hold. -- Jennifer
Santa Barbara News Press, Wednesday, April 17, 2002
By Starshine Roshell
NEWS PRESS Staff writer
Everything about the grownup musical
fairytale "Turnip Family Secrets" is delightfully imaginative: an outlandish storyline,
ingenious scenic design, golden story-book limiting and an inventive and
flexible score that bends from sultry to sinister and bounces all the way back
to snappy. Even the purple paper program smacks of fancy, promising scenes set "In the sky" and on "A vast and
featureless plateau," and songs titled "Don't Treat Me Like an Idiot" and
"I'll Pull Off the Giant's Nose." But audiences may need more than vivid imaginations to unearth
the meaning of this anything-but-garden-variety play. It may take a heavy plow.
Written by Michael Smith, the story is about a salt-of-the
earth family that grows a mammoth turnip, moves into it, is besieged by an irksome giant and ultimately chucks the
whole soiled situation for an extended European holiday. Occasionally absurd and
frequently obscure, the short show seems to be a sort of parable about the thrill of pulling up roots,
both those of the homegrown veggie variety and those that fetter us to our
family homes. At. its best, director Deanne Anders' experimental production is
thought-provoking, funny and offers a good-natured elbow-ribbing at the somewhat bizarre conventions of
children's theater. Here, larger-than-life characters tackle cliche-ridden dialogue with exaggerated volume
and enunciation, blaring inane quips like, "Oh, yes, this is fine!" with
Of course, stylized language and performances put emotional distance between the audience and the
antics, ever-reminding us that the on-stage world is strange and unfamiliar. The notion is enhanced by
dreamlike, even nightmarish, visual cues, including wildly original set pieces by Yadi Zeavin, a creepy
blinking eye by artist Tiffany Story and an oversized papier-mache giant's nose by Richard McLaughlin.
When combined with amplified snorting, the latter strikes a curious balance between wonderfully silly
Josef Woodard's music is perhaps the most inviting and engaging
aspect of the production. Set to Mr. Smith's clever lyrics, which are sometimes drowsed out by Mr.
Woodard's visible and capable five-piece band, the tunes employ the familiar
rhythms of jazz, tango, rock, rap and even a passionate polka or two. The results can be
meditative and haunting, or wonky arid whimsical.
The music enhances the storytelling with complex chords and even
screeching cacophony, and the band follows suit with sound effects like windy
wooshing,clippi1y clops and the chilling clanks of a rattling metal toolbox. The four actors deserve high
praise for their sheer willingness to go along on this wild ride. Especially game is Fred Lehto, who does
wonders with the cryptic script and roots his character, Cal, in a wondrous wide-eyed optimism. His real-life
wife Paula Re brings a lovely singing voice to her role as Cal's pragmatic better half, Bess. Geren
Piltz's expressive body language and his visible enthusiasm for his role as their son David are mesmerizing.
Further testament to the show's creative spirit is the casting of
preteen Geoffrey Bell as both the stomping, roaring giant and the omniscient
garden fairy in argyle socks and knickers. A sixth-grader, Mr. Bell gets extra points for his dedication to
a story that left even adults in the audience scratching their beads and saying things like, "I think it's an
Surely it's no accident, though, that nonsense found its way into
this yarn. Toward the end, when Bess croons, "I used to think life made sense," it is clear that Mr. Smith
wants to remind us bow positively confounding even the most humdrum existence can be.
There are other turnip family "secrets" as well�vague
messages about responsibility, surmounting colossal challenges, shrugging off the
burden of possessions and answering the call of your heart.
But these lessons are buried pretty deep in the colorful flower bed
that is the text You don't have to be a mental giant to find them, but you have
to be willing to dig.
Family Secrets, at Center Stage Theater through April 21.
What could be weirder than a modern day fairy tale about a son who
convinces his bumpkin parents to hollow out their farm�s biggest
turnip and move on in? The answer: a musical play based on that very
premise called Turnip Family Secrets, written as a labor of love by
Michael Smith, composed with 18 original jazzy cuts by Joe Woodard, and
directed with just enough confusing care by Deanne Anders.
From the very first scene with Bess and Cal�played by real-life couple
Paula Re and Fred Lehto�it�s clear that this is no ordinary
production, as the two peruse their garden that�s overflowing with
turnips of enormous size, while singing frumpy farm songs about
vegetables and domestic strife. The overzealous yet entirely dependent
son David, acted exuberantly by Geren Piltz, manages to persuade his
parents to inhabit the turnip, a 15-foot-tall red and white stage prop,
and any sort of rural-based reality that existed prior to the big move
is tossed deep into the giant hole left by the overgrown tuber. Throw in
sixth-grader Geoffrey Bell�s exploratory yet destructive, giant and
well-meaning yet intrusive fairy, and Turnip Family Secrets succeeds in
playfully baffling the audience while passing along biting commentary on
white, middle-class suburban life at the same time.
There are a few interesting stage conventions along the way, especially
the upright bed scene between Cal and Bess that shoots far past any of
the innuendo that�s strewn throughout the rest of the production. The
extended scenes of darkness also tweak the theater-going experience,
puzzling those who might actually think they understand the play, past
any semblance of meaning.
In several post-production barroom conversations after opening night,
it�s clear to this reviewer that confusion was exactly what Smith
intended, as neither the actors nor the musicians really know what the
play�s about anyway. Therein lies the bungled beauty of Turnip Family
Secrets: You leave the theater not knowing whether to laugh, cry, or
just walk home straight-faced, a muddled mind-set that can only be
created by productions that are practiced in the art of confusion. Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
"Headless Household still seems to think that a mind is a terrible
thing to waste. Clever without being obnoxious, laid-back without snoozing, their
quick-dissolve electric studiohead jazz offers an alternative--not exactly a revolution,
more a wink than a nod: We haven't given up, how about you?...Awareness won't get
you to heaven, but in this case it gets you pretty far." --Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly
Hailing from Santa Barbara, California, Headless
Household achieved regional cult status by the late 1990s, thanks to their
quirky and eclectic kind of new music, their relentless live shows and a string
of albums all released on the band�s own label Household Ink.
The fact that Headless
Household releases its albums on its own record label, Household Ink, sure
didn't help them get attention. But by 2000, they were starting to get exposure
outside the regional press. � Fran�ois Couture, All-Music
the CD release of their 1987 debut, Headless Household
Was it really 13
years ago that Headless Household released its first album? Santa Barbara's
music scene was certainly different then�notas commercially strong, no doubt, butthere were probably more places to play and more places to sponge up
artistic ideas from fellow musicians. I certainly felt this absence when I saw
Eugene Chadboume play two Thursdays ago to a very small crowd at the Roma. A few
music freaks, a few musicians passing through, a few Chadbourne groupies ready
to buy a baker's dozen of his indie releases. Out there music felt lonely and
Headless Household's 1987 debut feels warm, juices-flowing warm, friends-stopping-by-to-share-a-solo-or-riff warm. You can hear
them finding their footing with each other here, developing their sound�an
avant-jazz ready to jump into any Americana genre it can think up. Dick Dunlap's
keyboards mark the least derivation from original intent�here, as usual, they
fill in those empty gaps left by the other three, never really �there� until
it jumps into the foreground. Joe Woodard doesn't sound like Bill Frisell yet,
but you can hear how he was not too far away from his block even then, with his
watery leads and sliding chords. It's also interesting to hear Tom Lackner's
progressive drumming so high up in the mix�-but this was the �'80s after
all. Ditto Chris Symer, whose bass and Chapman Stick aren't too far in style
from Tony Levin. How they've all changed.
Guests include Joseppi Scozzaro, playing accordion on
"Isle of Hugh" (the one track with lyrics). Scozzaro was owner of Joseppi's, a much-lamented and sorely
missed club where
many musical adventures were undertaken�a space now occupied by The Madhouse.
Kathy Kelly, who sings vocals on this dizzy polka number, was at the time
working with Van Dyke Parks. She, like many others, came to Santa Barbara and
Several albums and many annual shows
later, the Household is still welcomingguests
in the band's own subdued way. Check out where it all started.
Santa Barbara Independent, 12-14-00
AMG EXPERT REVIEW:Mockhausen
is everything Headless
Household's previous album, Free
Associations, was not. The latter was the band's most commercial
release in 15 years of existence, but as the pendulum coming back only to go
farther in the other direction, Mockhausen
is a lot more experimental than any of their first five albums, something
expressed in the title itself, a play of words on the name of Karlhein
is anything but song oriented. Mostly made of collages, this material comes from
outtakes, live recordings, found sounds, and free improvisations involving all
members of the band and a few selected guests (longtime friends Jeff
Kaiser and Dave
Binney). This is a big change from the song-oriented, almost entirely Joe
Associations, best epitomized by the guitarist's new interest in
turntables. Sounds collide and song excerpts overlap in a collage frenzy.
Surprise and deconstruction are the two main concepts used, but the listener
still has a few moments to rest his ears, like on Dunlap's
beautiful piano solo "Elvin" or the jazz ballad closing the album.
This is Headless
Household at their most adventurous and their best. � Fran�ois Couture,
Household answers the unspoken (not to mention icky) question, "What if
Negativland and a traditional jazz ensemble were in a terrible plane crash and
the emergency room doctors decided to piece together four complete survivors
from the bodies and parts found in the wreckage?"
genre tags on Headless Household has never worked, and Mockhausen is
their least categorizable album to date. Though their music is supported by a
framework of traditional rock/jazz instrumentation -- keyboard/piano, guitar,
bass and drums -- you're just as likely to encounter turntable manipulation and
aggressive trumpet-playing. "Opened House" sets the scene immediately,
tossing the listener into a roiling melee of found audio, around which mutated,
shambolic jazz and rock progressions flail and stagger. "For What Ails
You" leans more heavily on its post-rock/fusion foundation, though found
audio samples mingle at the feet of the melody. To their credit, Headless
Household toss this stuff off effortlessly. Unlike Tortoise, whose compositions
often seem to be held together by surface tension and intense concentration, the
Household's work is looser, more robust and forgiving, and doesn't seem to take
itself so all-fired seriously.
Household members bring their own works to the table. Dick
Dunlap gives us "Elvin (Palimpsest)", an unsettling game of
cat and mouse for solo piano. Drummer Tom Lackner offers "Re-Opened
House," an envigorating and rich tapestry of electro-acoustic percussion
sources, filled with unique sonic "characters". And Joe Woodard, the
guitarist/turntablist behind "For What Ails You", is also responsible
for "Wintry (Invention)", a fairly straightforward, though distantly
alien exercise in noir jazz, complete with torch song scatting. But the
true joy of Mockhausen is hearing the quartet interact and improvise;
these guys have been working together a long time, and it shows in the cohesive
mental narrative of "The Feeling of Give".
Mockhausen works because the Headless Household
never entirely lose sight of the fact that they want to entertain the
listener. There are crucial vestiges of musicality -- hummable hooks, compelling
rhythms or amusing samples -- in even the most experimental tracks. However
wildly improvisational their music becomes, these guys play with their
(metaphorical) eyes open, watching the audience to make certain they're enjoying
the ride. This is a crucial distinction, as music in any genre misses the point
when it is performed more for the players than the listeners -- a pitfall that
the Household dodges.
like to believe that Splendid constantly pushes readers to expand their musical
horizons and try some less predictable music. As part of that bargain, we do our
best to identify strong, reliable "starting points" on sonic roads
less traveled. If you've been looking for that elusive path out of Musical
Blahs-ville (or its suburb, Emo-Town), grab a copy of Mockhausen, sit
down with your best headphones on and imagine yourself passing a big highway
sign: "You are now leaving Predictable Indie Rock." You may never
and just ignore that plane crash debris in the background.
group�s third CD release is full of angular lines, tricky meters and
�difficult� music that gives way to moments of raw, irreverent stretching
(�Tiddly Wink�), modal jams (�Green Swipe Pattern�) and pure
improvisational cacophony (�Surf Punctuation�). This impossibly eclectic mix
suggests a strange meeting of Captain Beefheart, Ernest Tubb, post-comeback
Miles Davis, the Band, Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Edith Piaf, with touches
of Sonny Sharrock, John Cage, Bill Frisell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago
thrown in. Music this wildly diverse can never be properly marketed in this age
of specialization, but that doesn�t make it any less extraordinary. **** (four
--Bill Milkowski, Tower Pulse magazine, Oct. 1999
"Another scintillating release from
this Santa Barbara combo, featuring a solid jazz foundation with avant-garde
underpinnings. This deft combination produces a characteristically unique album that will
please a wide audience with its variety and skill. At one moment, the Household sounds
something like a magnificently orchestrated big band ("My Baby Left Brain") and
with one quick nod of the head, an anarchical deconstruction of all musical elements
occurs ("Laconics 1"), flinging the band into the corners of Knitting Factory
experimentalism. And just when you think you've nailed the band into a stylistic
pigeonhole, Bill Flores whips out the heavy duty steel pedal gee-tar and the Household
goes 100% country, duet-style, with "Honey, I'm Home." ... The monstrous
musicianship on this CD could squeeze your feeble brain like a zit, but instead, the group
chooses not to will its awesome power upon you. Rather, they befuddle listeners with wry
wit, harrowing humour and refreshing vivacity, creating a release that will certainly cure
you of the overexposed rock n roll blues."
Hometown: Santa Barbara, CA, US
"No, Headless Household is not an Industrial band. They sound like Miles Davis playing with the Kronos Quartet conducted by Sun Ra with occasional vocals by George Jones and backup singers from
A Man and a Woman. Wonderful and wonderfully bizarre. If and when Twin Peaks gets another stab at prime time TV, Headless Household would be the perfect band to play at the lodge. Sounds Like: Ween, George Jones, Mark Isham, Kronos Quartet"
Free Associations, A CD by Headless Household on Household Ink
Headless Household make a free jazz noise that sounds like its name--no
one of the four musicians (Dick Dunlap, Tom Lackner, Chris Symer, and Joe Woodard) reigns
supreme over any one tune, more willing to cede that role over to their ever-changing
roster of guest musicians.
Celebrating 15 years of adventurous genre bustin', Free Associations--a
title that suggests the numerous musical friends who turn up at this household's door, as
much as the improv style that courses through the tracks--is the Household's fourth album
and yet another smorgasbord of strange delights.
Headless Household has a way of making Santa Barbara appear to have a
happenin' avant-jazz scene, but that's only part of their plan. They can take vocalists
Glen Phillips and Marjorie Extract and recast them as country balladeers ("Honey, I'm
Home"), or turn Julie Christensen into a Seine-side chanteuse on the Michel Legrand
meets po-mo blender "The Eiffel Tower Made Easy." They give Jennifer Terran her
chance to front a swing band ("My Baby Left Brain"). Most of all, they can
disappear and make believe Headless Household is a brass-led quintet. Blowin' across the
entire album are contributions from trumpeters Tom Buckner, Nate Birkey, and Jeff Elliott
(who does a fair impression of Miles Davis circa Live/Evil on "Green Swipe
Pattern"), and saxmen Dave Binney and Buckner (again). There's also plenty of tasty
piano work from Theo Saunders.
Frith-meets-Frisell guitarist Joe Woodard's connection to this fair
paper is apparent--you've probably just read his column a page or two back--but who
would've thought our own Angry Poodle would guest star on her self-titled track? Sounding
like Laurie Anderson late for an appointment, guest vocalist Christensen reads a recent
Trixie tirade against anonymity while the band jitters away. They then segue into a
stomping Material-ish riff while Jeff Kaiser makes his trumpet yelp, tail between its
What holds this all together is the cerebral spirit of experiment, and
the rythmic backbone of Tom Lackner's drums and Chris Symer's bass. And while near the end
of many tracks the band may run off, or rather saunter away, in all directions, they
always find their way back home. Free Associations is an eclectic treat and a nicely
twisted snapshot of our local scene.
--Ted Mills, Santa Barbara Independent, 12-17-98
Fifteen Years Headless
Santa Barbara's finest crop of mixed milieu musicians--Headless
Household--is celebrating its 15-year anniversary with a show at the Center Stage Theater
this Monday, December 14 at 8 p.m. ($10, or $7 for students or seniors).
The band without a parent is also the (right-brain) child of all four
members, a truly democratic anarchy of competing ideas yet congruent concepts, working
together in a spirit of sophisticated freedom--an evolving musical proof of the
mathematical theory of chaos.
The sometimes jazz, art rock, cabaret, what-have-you band includes
Independent writer Josef Woodard--whose project is more "Fringe" than his own
column, and whose bandmates--pianist, synthesist, sample wizard Dick Dunlap, drummer and
Local Hero Tom Lackner, upright bass and strange string-thing player Chris Symer--equal
Woodard in left-of-center sonic shenanigans. They're a quixotic quartet, to say the least.
The latest Headless album--Free Associations--shows the skilled
professionalism of these savvy players in their most mischievous moments, incorporating a
range of fine musical guests, challenged beyond their usual scope. The surprisingly bold
Brechtian folk tones of the usually tender tenor Glen Phillips meshes unique- ly with the
plaintive slide of Marjorie Extract's vocals. Jennifer Terran glides over a scat blues,
and Julie Christensen gets to sing in Franglais mode over mood-layering musical maestros
Gilles Apap on violin and Nate Birkey on trumpet. Even our own angry poodle Trixie is
lyrically lifted from in "The Angry Poodle." It's all a good stretch, fine
For a first-hand gander and up-front earful of the above diverse talents
and more, find your way to the 15-year-young birthday party, the annual live performance
at the Center Stage, where surprises can't not happen, and improvisation ripples through
the fine semi-structured ensemble like peanut butter marble through chocolate ice cream.
It's tasty and brings a guarantee of the unexpected.
--Duncan Wright, Santa Barbara Independent, 12-17-98
HEADLESS HOUSEHOLD, ITEMS,
� HOUSEHOLD INK 119.
Fan Fair/Hypothyroid Dough Boy-1/3 A.M. Western (All the
Whiskey in China) -3/ Expectators-4/ House Rules/ News Flash (Toronto Blues Society) 5-6/
Dance Peace / (Open Letter to) Manfred Eicher 5/ Ernesta/ In His Absence/For What
Ails You (and Slight Rleturn)-4 / Pig in a Polka-2-3-5-7/ Nodding Up Front / Hefty
Dick Dunlap, kbds, sequences, samples; Tom Lackner, d, perc, ryl; Chris
Symer, b; Joe Woodard, 9; Jeff Kaiser, peck h, tpt-1 only; Nate Sirkery, tpt-2 only; Glues
Apap, vln-3 only; David Binney, asA only; Tom Buckner, ts-5 only; Jennifer Terran, vcl4
only; Ellen Turner, vcl-7 only. No location, December 1995.
"Headless Household is the core cooperative quartet of Dunlap,
Lackner, Symer and Woodard. Various guests add to the eclectic musical scope of a
startling project. "Fan Fair is a sample heavy, sequencer-intense mix that
cross-fades into the rather flat funk of "Hypothyroid Dough Boy."Gilles
Apap's violin carries the melodic lead of Woodard1s lyrical ballad "3 A.M.
Western." The opening three performances reveal this cooperative's challenging scope
ranging from fractal freescapes ('tExpectators") to New Age ballads
("For What Ails You/Nodding Up Front); from electronic experiments ("Dance
Peace/In His Absence") to jaunty dirge fanfares ("House Rules") or ballads
like News Flash" and "(Open Letter To) Manfred Eicher" with its uncanny
recreation of the coo yet ush romanticism of the classic ECM sound. Most surprising of
all, perhaps, is the smooth relaxed groove of "Hefty Darlin'," a slick and
loving demonstration of Headless Household's ability to play with a precision, depth,
warmth and ease of feeling that can rival any other outfit in the professional mainstream.
--David Lewis, Cadence, August 1998
"From Santa Barbara, keyboardist Dick Dunlap, drummer Tom
basst Chris Symer and guitarist Joe Woodard are quite a creative group. On this, their
fourth recording, they include everything from free improv to straightahead jazz with
creative asides thrown in that include comedy, Country & Western, electronic fusion,
blues and progressive rock... its quite an enjoyable mix from this group of talented
and creative musicians." --Jim Santella, L.A. Jazz Scene, April 1997
"Like groups like Medeski, Martin and Wood, Headless
Household's vision of jazz is one of expanding boundaries and eclecticism. Embodying the
word fusion in its true sense, Items blends a variety of musical styles rock, funk,
country, blues, 70's fusion, surf, polka . . . ) and wraps it up in a not-quite-round,
not-quite square package labeled "jazz". This same cut 'n' paste mentality has
propelled artists like Beck to success in the rock world -- it's just that Headless
Household, true to their jazz underpinnings, do it live on acoustic instruments rather
than in their bedroom with a sampler and a four-track (O.K., they do use a sampler once
and a while!). For those who are looking for something new and challenging in jazz, this
album is worth serious consideration. Rather than 'The Riffs of Parker from A to Z' (which
is too often what you get in mainstream jazz these days), Items offers a jazz
alternative that is alive and vibrant." --noah wane
AMG EXPERT REVIEW: The title of this album is the best possible
description, not only for this particular release, Headless
Household's third, but for the entire output of this strange band from Santa
Barbara, California. Because Headless
Household is all about eclecticism. The band plucks items from a very wide
range of musical genres. The album opener, "Fan Fair," sounds just
like... well... a fanfare, while the next song ("Hypothyroid Dough
Boy") is driven by an angular funk rhythm with a little guitar melody very
reminiscent of the theme song from the Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoon. The
song then breaks totally free, only to come together once again, this time
topped by a dismembered solo from guest hornist Jeff
Kaiser. The next tune, "3 A.M. Western," is a beautiful (and very
tonal) country/jazz ballad and the fourth a free improv jam.
I won't describe the album track by track, but by now you should get the
idea: whatever it is you just heard, there is absolutely no garantee the next
minute will be in the same vein. On Items,
Household touches mainstream jazz, free jazz, western, polka, some very
cheezy things and Zappa-like
avant-rocking. The pool of guests musicians appearing on the album also has
something to do with this ever-changing sound, adding to Household's
basic guitar/keys/bass/drums instrumentation trumpet (Jeff
Kaiser), violin (Gilles
Apap), alto (David
Binney) and tenor (Tom
Buckner) sax, even some vocals on two tracks.
Don't think Headless
Household lacks direction though. All this variety serves them well and the
listener, although often surprised or taken off-guard, doesn't feel lost in
Items. These guys know what they're doing and they do it very well. Fans of Frank
Zappa and the likes, or simply those who appreciate not being able to
predict what will happen for the next hour after the first two minutes of the
CD, should definitely try to track this one down. � Fran�ois Couture,
re: Inside/Outside USA
"Santa Barbara's comically-inspired
jazz-cum-anything quartet... fusion, country, folk, funk, surf, and even polka all mix
together with just enough bite, humor, and variety to buck convention. Prime musical chops
keep the irreverence focused... this household is all over the map; in terms of creativity
and energy, the group is beyond category." --Roger Len Smith, Jazziz
All-Music Guide: On Inside/Outside
Household fuse a wide range of styles to create their brand of rock: swing,
bebop, blues and avant-garde, among others. � John Bush
"Headless Households singular brand of jazz is
not so much free as it is amok. This Santa Barbara combo plays endearingly bizarre pop,
bop, swing, and several other genres with impeccable musicianship and a sly sense of
humor... `The Mayors Send-Off is a very nice piece of blue-mood lounge music
with a smoky trumpet; `Rumba in Kuwait is an impressive exercise in avant-noise;
`Wintering in Heaven deserves to be added to the repertoire of every nightclub
crooner. An added bonus is `Woe to Him, featuring vocals by Toad the Wet
Sprockets Glen Phillips. Recommended, but not for purists." --Rafer Guzman, East
"Fusion's never been this bizarre. Headless
Household combines good 'ol Southern blues-boogie, be-bop, swing and rock into a gamey
stew served warm over a plate of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Golden Palaminos, Captain
Beefheart, Savoy Brown, and onward...Wild."--Darren Bergstein, I/e
"A quartet from Santa Barbara, CA, Headless
Household have been together for over a decade, and released their first, self-titled
album in 1987. `Inside/Outside finds them teaming up with several guests, including
Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket, on 14 tracks of eclectic and moody mellow jazz and
fusion. Ten of the tracks are instrumentals, and explore a variety of jazz atmospheres
with occasional help from some horn players. The band members, playing, playing guitar,
keyboards, bass and drums, are all solid musicians, but the strength of the album lies
mainly in its varietythe songs each explore different shades of jazz, from light,
dreamy vocal pieces to comedic musical jabs at James Brown and surf music, to somewhat
more upbeat and eclectic fusion. For those into the mellower side of electric jazz,
Inside/Outside should prove to be an interesting and enjoyable listen, though
not an essential release." --RW, Expose
"Following a private madness, they assemble
(musical) nuggets into something great and, sometimes, even important. Using old and new
instrumentation and technologies, Headless Household weave through tight turns and
time-signatures" --B.H. Hart, Sound Choice
"It's hard to categorize these guys, though their
music's playful, quirky, sometimes downright silly, sometimes quite soothing."--New
Music Distribution Service Catalogue blurb
Mennonite and Ballads
Nate Birkey | Birkey
Based in Southern California, trumpeter Nate Birkey has been affiliated
with both the mainstream and avant-garde scenes since he finished his
studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The leader, who
released both albums this year, grew up in Colorado, where he began
studying piano at an early age and "fell in love with" his
father's trumpet in the 5th grade. Birkey's cohesive band has been
together for several years, and has learned to anticipate one another's
actions. The Household Ink label was founded in 1987 to support the new
music band Headless Household. Birkey has appeared on several of their
albums. An eclectic group, the band crosses genres to include whatever
they wish. Their creative sessions allow for growth in the jazz world
while remaining true to its roots.
Nate Birkey's trumpet rings with a clarion tone, as his quintet
interprets straight-ahead ideas. Acoustic, and derived both from jazz and
blues traditions, his session favors original compositions. Birkey's sense
of the modern mainstream includes light Latin reflections, moody trumpet
daydreams, cohesive ensemble play, and a bit of adventurous growth. The
album is a clear winner. Nods to Miles Davis are everywhere. Alongside
Birkey's trumpet, his pianist, tenor saxophonist, and bassist carry a fair
share of the melody. Each displays an honest respect for tone quality, and
everybody solos. Samples are available from his web site. When the
trumpeter steps forward, his ballad tone takes over. There are classical
music overtones. Several of the pieces proceed suitelike, telling stories
through their myriad mood changes. Irving Berlin's "What'll I
Do" contrasts with the rest of Birkey's stellar session. The leader's
vocal presentation with piano accompaniment leaves behind all of the
favorable displays of attention to tone evident elsewhere. The title track
- a loose, bouncy affair - adds guitars to color with a contemporary
brush. Guest Joe Woodard elevates Birkey's straight-ahead piece to the
leading edge. This is where today's jazz should be. The tradition remains
intact, while familiar elements from rock, pop, and world music serve to
provide an avenue for growth.
A fool and his trumpet
BY TOM JACOBS, Santa Barbara News Press
Nate Birkey calls his two new CDs "Ballads" and "The
Mennonite." The first title is self-explanatory. Understanding the other
requires some knowledge of religious sects - and a bit of family history.
The Mennonite movement is a pacifistic Christian faith which dates back to
16th-century Europe and is widely practiced in parts of the rural Midwest. Among
its adherents was the man who raised Birkey's mother.
She never became a practicing Mennonite, according to her jazz trumpeter son.
However, Birkey has fond memories of the meals she prepared using the Mennonite
Cookbook. He recalls them as being tasty but "very fattening."
Reminiscing about his mom and his Midwestern upbringing, Birkey created
"The Mennonite," which became the title song of the CD. While the song
is personal, its tone is hardly nostalgic.
"The title is almost tongue-in-cheek," he said. "The song is
sort of funky. It has a kind of cool stoicism which is sort of Mennonitish, I
Birkey, whose quintet will perform Wednesday night at SOhO, calls another of
his new numbers "The Fool in the Tree." It's something of a
self-portrait. The tree of the title is his family tree, and to his "very
practical" Midwestern relatives, his life as a professional musician must
seem peculiar indeed.
Reflecting his roots, Birkey is decidedly soft-spoken and low-key. He's also
practical (a good Midwestern trait). When he went into the recording studio with
his group in February, his plan was to record a single CD of his most recent
"I had booked seven days in the studio," he said. "We had most
of the original material done - or close to being done - in three to four days.
I had toyed with the idea of doing a 'standards' album; given the fact we had
more time, we started recording some standards that I love."
Not surprisingly, those performances "weren't as thought out as the
original tunes," he said. "With some of the standards, we had no
preconceived idea of what was going to happen. A couple of tracks, like 'Nature
Boy,' were kind of magical. They were born on the spot, in one take."
Some of Birkey's original compositions were created in a similarly
spontaneous way. "There have been a few songs that have just come to
me," he said. "I wrote them in one evening."
But 80 percent of the time, he added, writing music is a matter of
"forcing myself to sit down and work. I essentially gave myself two months
to write an album. I wrote six songs in a two-month period."
How does he work?
"You sit at the piano and start messing with melodies and chords. Once I
have an idea, I pick up the trumpet and play the melody on the trumpet. I hear
melodies better on the trumpet; I can tell if it feels right and sounds right.
"I have a computer and a keyboard, but that doesn't work as well for me.
I use it for arranging and sequencing, but (to compose music) I prefer paper and
pencil and sitting at the piano."
Birkey began piano lessons at age 6 in his native South Bend, Ind. "I
see now that it was invaluable for me to have that foundation, but I hated
practicing," he said. "When I started messing with the trumpet in
fifth grade (soon after the family moved to Evergreen, Colo.), it just felt more
natural to me. I didn't mind practicing trumpet. So I put the piano aside and
started taking trumpet lessons."
Birkey's father, a successful architect, played trumpet as a youth. But he
had essentially given up the instrument by the time Nate was born.
"He would occasionally bring it out when guests were over," Birkey
recalled. "They'd have impromptu jam sessions. But he didn't practice.
"I don't remember my dad putting the trumpet in my hands and saying,
'Try this.' But I was always fascinated by it when he played. So I dug it out of
his closet and tried it on my own. My parents noticed I was interested in it, so
they encouraged me. They bought me my own horn after a couple of months."
A few years later, his high school band teacher told Birkey: "You need
to listen to Miles Davis." The young musician dutifully went to the record
store and picked out the LP "Sketches of Spain," mainly because he
liked the cover art.
"I put it on," he recalled. "I didn't quite understand the Gil
Evans arrangements. But when Miles was playing, I thought, 'Yeah. That's how I
want my trumpet to sound - that sad, pining sound.'"
After graduating from high school, Birkey enrolled in the prestigious Berklee
College of Music in Boston. After one year, he dropped out. "Berklee is
very intense," he recalled. "It's music, 24/7. There's nothing else,
really. I wanted a lot broader education and a more typical college
So he moved to the other coast, enrolling at Seattle Pacific University,
"a small liberal-arts college." After two years, he headed south to
"My sister, who had never really left Colorado, wanted a change, so she
decided to move to Santa Barbara," he said. "She asked me to help her
move. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next, so I decided to tag along and live
with her in Santa Barbara for a little while. This was in 1985."
She eventually returned home, but Birkey stayed, continuing his studies at
UCSB and playing in a variety of local bands, including Spencer the Gardner, the
Wedding Band and the Avant-Gardeners. He formed the Nate Birkey Quintet in 1997;
with one exception, the band is still made up of the same players.
Birkey admits that, to further his career, it would probably make more sense
for him to live in New York or Los Angeles. "I've considered it, but Santa
Barbara is a hard place to leave," he said. "I'm able to make a living
here (teaching privately and playing music). I'm 38; I'm getting to the age
where I don't want to bus tables (to pay my bills)."
One advantage to being here is the opportunity to play with other superb
local musicians. He is a huge fan of virtuoso violinist Gilles Apap, who
performed on one cut of an earlier Birkey CD, "Indelibly You."
"I admire what Gilles has done," he said. "He doesn't allow
himself to be pigeonholed. (Like him,) I want to try different things. I'd like
to do a Gospel album - a tribute to my upbringing. I know all those hymns.
"Of course," he added quickly, "I'd mess around with them a
"Birkeys trumpet chops are
strong, his playing is lyrical and passionate, and his tonal range is wide . as was
queried of Chet Baker, is he a trumpet player who sings, or a singer who plays trumpet?
Birkey is adept at both " Frank Rubolino, Cadence
"Nate's latest offering is his most inspired to date, fusing a
myriad of styles into a single expression of jazz excellence... With Indelibly You Nate
has arrived as a world-class jazz musician, able to change any room into an atmospheric
dreamscape or hard-bop cutting session." --Mark Fahey, S.B. Independent
"His biggest, boldest, most original
statement as a musician yet."
It was strangely fitting: I'd
just sent an e-mail to Splendid's writing staff, bemoaning the proliferation of
cookie-cutter indie rock in our "to be reviewed" pile -- and the
proportionate lack of edgy, experimental music -- when Ode to the Sistrum
took its appointed turn in my CD player. And as experimental music goes, Ode
to the Sistrum is one of the most enjoyable discs I've heard in ages.
is a companion piece to the art exhibition "Richard Dunlap: A Retrospective
for Eyes and Ears", which ran last year in Santa Barbara. Both a visual and
a sonic artist, Dunlap has also worked with Headless Household, whose music has
been reviewed in these pages in the past.
Though they're sufficiently
disjointed and discordant to encourage listeners to toss around the word
"experimental", Dunlap's compositions fit fairly comfortably into the
"modern orchestral" oeuvre. Dunlap seems to prefer the sensual
pleasures of rich, full, bell-like musical tones and altered time signatures
over bone-jarring explosions of metallic dischord, long silences punctuated by
anonymous tapping, or other similarly audience-unfriendly creative indulgences.
For example, Ode to the Sistrum has no compositions for broken glass,
belt sander, raw meat and 17th century Spanish chair-leg-milling-machines.
"Walk on Chairs" tosses a few audio samples in among its layers of
edgy piano, but even the ensuing conflagration of jazz samples, piano,
microtonal xylophone and other instruments retains a fundamental
"musicality" -- there are recognizable melodies upon which newcomers
Similarly, "Passage (for
Edie Rickey)" includes circular saw blades on its list of sonic elements,
but there's nothing cacophonous about it. A heavenly concoction of bell-like
keyboard and marimba tones, chorused vocals and elegant orchestrations,
"Passage" challenges not with its basic sound, but its mountain-goat
leaps between developing themes. Don't be surprised that it's gorgeous; this is,
after all, music as art, and it's a mistake to assume that challenging musical
art must by default be "ugly".
Other works of note include
"Interplay", an angular duel between two pianos playing related,
seemingly graduated progressions. Once again, it's unexpectedly musical, as is
"Vox Flux", a chugging rhythm assembled from bits and pieces of
manipulated vocals. The title cut is another winner; heavy on the rich, ringing
tones -- it features xylophone, microtonal bell and microtonal piano --
"Ode to the Sistrum" divulges a frenetic percussive-bell narrative
that'll send little electric currents through your skin.
that some of Ode to the Sistrum's more conventional melodies veer new
age-ward. Though they never reach the saccharine predictability of Yanni
territory, some listeners might find this -- and indeed the presence of any
deliberate conventional melody -- offputting. Others will be seized by the urge
to enjoy Dunlap's music in tandem with his visual art, and will wish that Ode
to the Sistrum's production budget had provided for a CD-ROM multimedia
presentation that would display visuals in tandem with the music. However, until
that comes along, most listeners should be surprisingly satisfied with Ode...
-- it's one of those rare discs that challenges while it satisfies (and vice
You might not expect it, but Los Angeles has a very active and vibrant new
music/jazz scene -- one that overlaps, but is in many ways totally distinct
from, the world of "industry" music and musicians. Brad Dutz is one of
the many fine players/composers with an ear in both worlds, though Heat the
Grill Cook Loin finds him exploring new music from a distinctly jazz-based
perspective. Dutz is a percussionist, and on most of these tracks it shows --
all manner of percussion instruments (gongs, marimbas, tabla, kidi, bongos,
rainstick, etc.) provide these tracks with a subtle but energizing complexity.
Winds (flute, sax, trumpet, clarinet), acoustic bass and occasional guitar round
out the ensemble. Dutz's music is a combination of written-out and improvised
material, and his players easily switch from one to the other. The fixed/free
switching technique helps keep the music from getting bogged down on either
side, and clearly keeps the musicians involved and on top of their playing. Jazz
fans looking for something non-traditional but "friendly" will
probably enjoy this CD, as will anyone interested in pretty, pleasant, energetic
(the band's debut album, originally cassette-only, newly
reissued on CD)
"Ellen Turner, the primary force behind Dudley, has put
together a collection of pop with a relaxing folk undercurrent. Turner's
velvety, enveloping voice is reminiscent of Frente!'s Angie Hart in its sweeping
sighs. In fact, many moments here recall Frente!, but without their determined
quirkiness...every song on the album is quite solid, providing plenty of fine
moments. Centering on the well-worn trials of finding/keeping/losing love, the
often melancholy but never mawkish tunes highlight Turner's enchanting
quirky, aqueous cover image on Doin' Jack seems to imply that something just as
beguiling lies within the CD's jewel case. Does it deliver? You betcha. The
tracking order allows the thirteen songs to be individuals while still composing
a coherent whole with a plausible conclusion. Dudley's melodious soft-rock is
imbued with shades of Edie Brickell, and atmospheric layers possibly inspired by
a visit to the Cocteau Twins' Four Calender Cafe (particularly during the chorus
of "Unrequited Triangle"). Ellen Turner's floating vocal drawl
suggests she is singing an intimate disclosure to the listener. Her voice,
paired with the emotional exposure of the lyrics ("I have eyes like yours
that look right into me, But mine are not so kind, what do you see in me?"
from "Eyes"), conjure a Sunday morning mood: either evoking the
euphoria of waking up next to the one you love, or waking up to the emotional
wreckage of a lover's revelations from the previous night. The slinking guitar,
sometimes sparse arrangements and smattering of horn on tracks such as
"Unrequited Triangle", "Saved my Soul" and "Prince
Charming" solidify Dudley as a southern Californian experience to relieve
"Jazzy acoustic finger
picking and a little brushed snare back up Ellen Turner's hazy, hushed vocals
through light, breezy songs, best described with adjectives like plush, nice,
deluxe, yummy and delightful."
EVER SINCE I WAS A WEE LAD, I've admired Ellen Dudley Turner: her
impulsive courage, her indifference to commercial trends, and (let's face it) her
undisputable prettiness. But my hessian heart could never really identify with the soft,
free-form music she played.
Until now. Turner's band Dudley (with Joe Woodard on guitar, Chris Symer
on bass, and Tom Lackner on drums) recently wrapped up a year's work at Riviera Studios
with engineer/producer Wayne Sabbak. The resulting CD, doin' jack, bulges with 14 tracks'
worth of fresh confidence and self-realization.
Doin' Jack is sexy--something you might not expect of gentle, poppy,
sometimes-jazzy folk music. But a slow, full appreciation of all your senses is sexy.
Vulnerable self-honesty is sexy. And (Lord knows) so is a casual come-on for a little
afternoon delight. They're all present here. So is the seedy underbelly: confusing sex
with love, using it to putty up spiritual gaps (Luring Him OM, Eyes), hurting and being
hurt by the mere desire for it (Unrequited Triangle). We're not talking about some
embarrassing R&B grind; this is the absorbent omnipresence of libido in real life.
Ellen's voice is unmistakable: soaring anywhere her imagination desires,
only to be pulled back, as if by gravity, to a softly conversational tone. The players and
producer respectfully avoid getting too busy, and the open space is breathtaking.
"The somewhat playful, folk-tinged,
soft-side-of-alternative rock a welcome break from the self-seriousness exhibited by
other female singer/songwriters intriguing, nightmarish side that peeks out from the
lyrics once in awhile " --Richard Singer, Option
"The record has moments of country warmth, off-time
folk, and some of the most fragile musical moments you will ever hear on tape this is
a group of artists who paint and sculpt brilliant creations for the senses, and when you
least expect it, get into your soul." --Frank Warren, San Luis Obispo
"...even as instrumentals, these songs are
beautiful, and coupled with Ellens voice, it is indeed a rare beauty in this time of
loud is more." --Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent
"A treasure trove of poetry and haunting
images." --Steve Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press
LEAN-TO and their CD entitled MALARCHITECTURE (Household Ink 121). This music is
more subtle and dynamically varied than the release above, reminding this listener of the
writing of Bill Frisell1 and the execution of both the Pat Metheny Group and
the 70's English Prog-Rock band, Hatfield & The North. The group is comprised of Brad
Rabuchin (el g, g synth, ac g), Joe Woodard (el g), Bob Mair (el b), and Tom Lackner (d,
perc), whose 13 quartet-generated compositions (Lincoln Logs/ Goleta Factor/ Memory
Garden/The Beauty Of Nuts+/ Luxury Of Timet/ Gabriell Get And Stay Outi WigI
Hungry Ghoststt/ #26/ Barter A Sambat/ Bring Grandma/ The Kindness
of Strangers+% - 66:30) run the gamut from hard rockers to introspective ballads. The
opening track, "Lincoln Logs," shows the Frisell influence in the melody and
chordal structure plus the open, airy, percussive work. There are several vocal tracks:
"The Beauty of Nuts" has a funky, fuzz-guitar, quasi-reggae intro leading to
vocalist Ellen Turner's (+) knowing reading of the "surrealistic" lyrics (Airlo
Moriera (*) clicks in on percussion on this track): "Hungry Ghosts" has a
'Ventures meet David Byrne" hm track with Bruce Winter (*1) adding his voice over
Lackners marimba; Glen Phillips (%) joins Ms. Turner on the last cut, 'The Kindness
of Strangers," a country waltz with burbling guitar - the lyrics are poetic and the
vocal reading is sincere.
Some of the music has a lilting quality, even when it swings.
"Barter A Samba" builds off of Airto's insistent congas and the chunky guitar
work. "#26" is an odd title for a piece that opens with a lovely acoustic guitar
solo before moving into a soft, slow, rhythm a la Ralph Towner. There is "out' stuff,
for example the shaky, squeaky, noisy, opening to 'Wig" that leads to an insistent
fuzz-bass line surrounded by guitar interjections and splashy percussion. I like the
quirkiness of the arrangements and odd sounds plus most of the songs have solid melodies
and are not merely vehicles for showing just how fast these guys can play. If you enjoy
improvisational rock music that leans more towards the esoteric, Lean-To is recommended.
--Richard B. Kamins, Cadence, August 1998
"It's as if rock-period Brian Eno and
Frank Zappa at his kookiest were fighting over the radio dial. Lean-To offer
up a unique, and not unpleasing, mix of the accessible and the avant-garde. A
more grounded drummer would find them on poppier ground than they may want to
"Math rock meets fusion on this debut disc. I've been
wondering about the title for a while now -- are they simply suggesting `bad'
architecture, or is it a combination of malarkey and architecture? Because the latter,
which suggests a sort of organized goofing off, is a pretty decent description of what
you'll find on Malarchitecture. Tracks like `Goleta Factor' clearly owe a lot more to jazz
fusion than indie rock, and occasionally veer perilously close to smooth jazz waters, but
they also maintain a quiet intensity. You should crank the volume while listening to
Malarchitecture, because it's silent and mannered and at lower volumes you won't hear
everything. And it's very much worth hearing. You don't want to miss the sing-song
quirkiness of `Beauty of Nuts,' on which Ellen Turner's simplistic vocals highlight the
wonder of...well, nuts. `Barter a Samba' is one of those pervasive bits of music that
makes you long for a vacation somewhere warm and sandy, while `Bring Grandma' is an
entirely unexpected country-rock diversion. As a Rock Guy, I don't know how
Malarchitecture will play with finicky Jazz People, but I enjoyed it thoroughly." --
George Zahora, Splendid
"The `architectural aspect of the CD's title is appropriate... Lean-To's
debut CD gives an aural impression of a many-roomed structure, each doorway opening into a
chamber peopled by thoughts, themes, and ideas, that mutate conspiratorially right before
your very ears. A prevailing aroma of technique drifts from the internal kitchen of Malarchitecture,
an aroma seasoned with melody blending avant jazz, rock, and atmospheric hybrid soul. The
immediate impression this CD generates is the absolute joy of feeling in the hands of
thoughtful melody. Joe's song and lyric writing style is a psychological celebration of
the capacity music has to lead you from the heights of joy to smoky introspection.
The CD is populated by a who's-who of Santa Barbara "Best Bets" including
Bruce Winter, Glen Phillips, Ellen Turner, and world-renowned percussionist Airto Moreira.
Bruce Winters's moving vocal on the Lackner-Woodard cowrite, "Hungry Ghosts,"
sparks the imagination and soothes the soul into wondering about the essence of spirits
--Mark Fahey, "Positively State Street," Santa Barbara Independent, 3-26-98
Guitarist Brad Rabuchin bares eleven of his modern mainstream
compositions before the public with his debut album. Supported by saxophonist Midy Suzuki,
bassist Dean Taba, and drummer Keudall Kay, Rabuchin turns up the heat oh his electric
guitar. The quartet smokes, as guitarist and saxophonist trade melodies, drummer Kay
punctuates thoroughly, and Taba weaves the electric bass as a 3 r, lyrical voice. Tom
Buckner and Chris Bleth guest on four tracks, adding bass clarinet and tenor saxophone
"Get Out and Stay Out" is an in-your-face up-tempo rocker with
a syncopated rhythm that resembles hip-hop. "When Ginger Snaps" and the tide
tune "When Smart Dogs Go Bad" include the two guest woodwind players, as the
ensemble creates soundscapes that stretch the limits of modern mainstream jazz.
Suzukis soprano saxophone is used on "The Glide," which employs smooth
sounds in a quirky setting. Using alto and tenor for the rest of the session, the
saxophonist serves as an ideal partner for the leader's melodic themes and improvised
stretches. Brad Rabuchin's debut session is filled with excitement and thoughtful ensemble
interplay. Highly recommended.
time signatures and sly vocals create gently drifting bubbles of sound that any
listener would be loathe to pop. Brainy and original, with lyrical topics that
teeter between psychedelia and simply the inner thoughts of an isolated
"Montgomery Street is the new CD form the
collective soul of the mysteriously monikered flapping, Flapping. It is an awesome
collection of fat tracks that span the globe of musical interests. Joe Woodard shows up
with an array of tone and approach on the guitar and some beautifully imagined lyrics.
Glen Phillips vocally shows why he gets paid more than me in this world by turning out
some w-w-wicked vocal acrobaticsis that Patti Labelle? Bruce Winter rounds out some
beautiful harmony, and Tom Lackner again pulls an array of tones out of the drums. Check
it out, get funky, get pensive, get smiley "
--Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent
Top Cuts: Sort This Out, Lazy Susan, Doubly Doubting Thomas, A Burning
"Calling Matt" is an Andy Partridge type of pop song,
and "Lazy Susan" tears a page out of the Sgt. Pepper era Beatles songbook
"Doubly Doubting Thomas", a heavy pop song ala Toad, and then another eerie age
Beatles pop on "The Frogs Are Alive". Next is the gem of the disc, "Sort
This Out", a quirky and disjointed pop song that will have you singing along by the
second listen. "Back To The Station" turns up the speed a little with a heavier
rock/pop sound, then "Without" closes the disc by dropping it back down with
another with an eerie, mellow sound Worth investigating if you're a modern pop, late
era Beatles, or even mid-career XTC fan."
--Scott Pazur, CDreviews
"At their best, which is fortunately much of the
time, this quartet makes really thoughtful guitar rock blending XTC, Toad the Wet Sprocket
and some of those guit-pop bands form the Athens, Georgia heyday of yesterday. Try, for
instance, "Doubly Doubting Thomas..." --Seth Berner, Portland, ME
"flapping, Flapping is (among other things) a side
project for Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips. If youre into Toad,
"Montgomery Street" would be a good investment. Some songs, such as "Doubly
Doubting Thomas" reek of classic Wet Sprocket, but this albums big strength
lies in the fact that with two other Flapping band members (besides Phillips) contributing
material, no one song sounds quite like another (and the disc as a whole doesnt seem
a Toad knock-off). Furthermore, two of Phillips offerings, "Positively Double
Negative" (alternative title, "Toad meets Funkadelic"?) and "Eye
Wannabe Likes Lye" (and the Family Stone maybe?), reveal a fascinatingly funky side
to the singer. Other nice tracks include the brit-pop tinged "Lazy Susan" and
"The Frogs are Alive" and the just-plain-fun "Calling Matt" and
"My Favorite Guitar (fruit)". --nw, Splendid
"...in their capable hands, flapping is not sloppy.
It's four creative people jamming on top of a solid base of musical talent and inventive,
push-the-envelope songwriting. The band is indulgent, but these indiscretions are always
forgivable...the album warrants attention. It embodies the pop experimentalism and hooks
of Sgt. Pepper with an ironic approach of anti-pop pop performers like Pavement and Liz
Phair, and has layers that open up with repeated listening...What makes this disc truly
worth spinning...is its reigning sense of musical intelligence and maturity of lyric,
qualities which are laid nicely in a nest of cheeky good humor and backed with truly
kick-ass rock instrumentation." --Russ Spencer, Santa Barbara Independent
"Eccentric and fiercely eclectic, the Santa Barbara
quartet known as flapping, Flapping, FLAPPING leaves a lasting first impression on its
just-released debut recording, TEX. The independently-produced disc features 13 tracks
that run the gamut from skewed, introspective balladry to quirky alternative rock and
atmospheric pop. And though the band boasts three lead vocalists, there is a uniformity to
the sound that keeps the proceedings from seeming disjointed."--Bruce Britt, Ventura
"A classically trained pianist, Terran concocts
these weird songs with crazy lyrics that almost sound medieval. Also, you know how almost
every album has the obligatory `thank you' list plus the lowdown on who played what
instrument? Well, Terran has all that too, except that she sings her list. Her music is
sui generis, and Terran can sing as well as anyone.'' GRADE: A- --Bill Locey, Los Angeles Times
"Coming from an artistic family, Terran has
been playing for a long time, but mostly in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara. Her songs are
intense, personal and often downright goofy about you-name-it. But she has the voice to
pull it off and sounds a lot like, well, Jennifer Terran." --Bill Locey, Los
Angeles Times, Ventura Edition
"Jennifer Terran sounds as if her singing might be
herself. It's not that she bleeds all over the floor, though she's plenty intense. Her
songs (self-written and self-pianized) just seem to comes from a specific place, with
strong melodies that take natural but unexpected turns. They're about love, hate,
whatever, it doesn't matter, the only thing that does is that there was a personal reason
for them to exist. To deliver them, Terran happens to possess a remarkable soprano, and a
level of control over it equal to that of a young Joni Mitchell. Her album Cruel (Grizelda/Household
Ink), with its clean, intimate arrangements and fine songs like the title one and
"L.A. 101," is worth the search. She's just a singer from Southern California,
but she shows that that can be something very interesting.
--Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly
"When I first heard this disc, I was captivated by
the power of your voice and the songwriting..."
Chris Douridas, on KCRWs "Morning Becomes
Eclectic" (From an interview with Terran, 1-9-97)
"A deep, mystical and often disturbing journey into
a complicated and troubled psyche, Cruel documents Terran's directed search for
her center. What emerges is as ambitious and complete an album as any record released
anywhere, far and away the best locally-produced CD of the year. The transition from an
anguished yearning desire for success beyond mere survival to a place of confidence and
inner peace is captured in a single moment: the segue between "Write a Song" and
"Fat," which share a focus on the craft of songwriting. The dissonant minor-keys
and bullhorn-compressed vocal of "Write..." push the tortured lyrics ("I'm
gonna write a song today and with or without inspiration, I'm going to play it")
toward resolution in "Fat," which swoops with the breath elegance of Joni
Mitchell as Terran bristles with self-assurance ("Love is so fat/it's going to
suffocate the rats/That brought you dis-ease.") The balance of the art-pop record is
largely spare and minimalist, with Terran accompanying herself on the piano, frequently
solo. But she's not stingy with the melodies, when the subject calls for musical beauty.
Cruel is a resolutely compelling album of rare grace and uncompromising
--Steven Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press
"Jennifer Terran doesnt do a lot of things
halfway... Cruel is an incredibly complex and heady document that exudes confidence while
challenging boundaries. The result is a disturbing, intensely personal record, one that is
difficult and challenging, yet eminently accessible."
--Steven Libowitz, Santa Barbara News-Press
"The album successfully captures the absolute
originality of Jennifer Terran. Her musical ability seems virtually limitless. The
production is an immaculate study in subtlety, rage, and grace, exploring all the
possibilities of Jennifers verve, mapping the emotional content of the songs, and
elucidating the soft dynamics inherent in Jennifers music... There is a quality to
her music that is like that of artists such as Tori Amos and Jane Siberry. But there is no
mistaking Jennifers individuality within this genre."
--Mark Fahey, Santa Barbara Independent
"If you love Tori Amos, then J.T. will knock you
out. Her voice is better, her songs have more beauty...piano-spun folk, along with her
--San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune
"Like a post-modern Janis Joplin with a
--Andrew Broomhead, Santa Barbara Independent
"Terran makes P.J. Harvey sound like a choir
Through multi-tracking, Jeff Elliott creates a
whole brass section in order to interpret his collection of original
compositions. He�s written pieces that explore various aspects of the jazz
world, from close at hand to the other side. While touring with Flora Purim and
Airto, he experienced the natural beauty of a jungle first hand. And while
touring with Les McCann and Eddie Harris, he realized that jazz has to grow if
it�s to survive. Put those two and two together, and you have an eclectic
project that serves the fifty-year old trumpeter.
EIliott has added a rhythm section, a
saxophonist, and several others to his formula. Each piece paints a different
aspect of the music industry and of the world around us. "Denham Blues" soars
eloquently along city streets, as the leader�s open horn is supported fiercely
by tenor saxophonist Vince Denham, pianist Karen Hammack, bassist Randy Tico and
drummer Mike Clark. Each shares the trumpeter�s sincere desire to extend jazz
beyond bebop and swing. "Harbor Nights" struts confidently with a funk-driven
backbeat, while "The Resurrection of Joey Crown" carries with it a detailed
story and treasured memories of the way jazz was depicted on television some
forty years ago.
�A Hard Win" contains traces of Miles; "A.D.H.D."
recalls the fire and force of Dizzy; and "Weather Monk" flips along comfortably
with bouncing rhythmic and harmonic surprises. From the contemporary scene,
Elliott depicts the desert, the ocean, a dance club, and a rainforest. "Jungle
River" flows smoothly and evenly through serene landscapes that contain hidden
forces, which Elliott communicates convincingly via trumpet, flugelhorn,
baritone horn and keyboards. Eddie Harris has left his thumbprint all over
Elliott�s score, which has enabled the trumpeter to create a highly recommended
project that exhibits the growth of jazz in all directions.
While most jazz
musicians are merely speeding the genre's decline from living American artform
to stuffy museum piece, Santa Barbara trumpeter Jeff Elliott seems to be doing
his best to inject a bit of energy back into an increasingly moribund scene. A
veteran of the fusion scene (with everything, pro and con, that that implies
about his playing), he's created Different Jungles as a survey of the
various influences he's absorbed as a lifelong sideman. Gold stars are awarded
for the inventive soloing, but I'm close to revoking them as punishment for the
seven-and-a-half minute conceptual horror "The Resurrection of Joey Crown".
Combining the worst excesses of hip-hop skits, made-for-TV movies and
masturbatory noodling, it's the kind of thing that earns you major points on
late-night public access TV programs and notoriety everywhere else. Elliott is a
genuinely talented player and a few of these compositions genuinely catch fire,
but too often he seem to be reaching back to the formal experimentation of the
Eighties (for my money, jazz's worst decade), when he should be digging much,
"The Matrix Has Inverted" is one of those discs
that's so energetically, committedly peculiar, it's impossible not to love it. That love
might not come at first listen; the odd mixture of sci-fi voice bits, skewed religious
music, off-center opera and head-banging rock takes some getting used to. Imagine a
Bizarro-world rock opera. Or don't, it's up to you. The whole thing centers around the
fact that the Matrix (don't ask) has inverted (I've no idea), and that this is a fairly
bad thing, or perhaps not, depending upon your perspective. It also involves Joy and
Suffering, but perhaps only superficially. This loosely-overarching concept allows room
for peculiar country-western songs, folk songs and a lot of stuff that sounds like
cheerful nose-thumbing in the general direction of Styx, Queen and others of their ilk.
After several listens, I still haven't figured it out, but I love it.
"The Matrix Has Inverted will have you
sinking in your chair with your mind wandering in some distant place. Before you know it,
youll be awakened by some head-banging guitar riffs. The diversity feels as if
youve wandered from the World section to Opera, from Classical to Rock, passing
through the Country section only to land in a section that cant be labeled."
--Rob Dalley, Santa Barbara Independent