Further evidence of the fecund Vancouver music scene to be heard on the album Tell Tale (DRIP AUDIO DA01207) by the Film In Music ensemble, an eight-piece of crack musicians led by the cellist and composer Peggy Lee. Composed meets improvised, jazz meets easy-listening and film scores, acoustic meets electric, and there’s a healthy open-minded eclecticism at work. Strings, trumpet, pianos, guitars and drums blend together in pleasing ways, and the presence of two bass players (acoustic and electric) is the kind of touch the should please fans of Brian Wilson (he booked two such bassists for the Pet Sounds sessions).
Tell Tale is a concept record of sorts, themed around the TV series Deadwood, which is one of those protracted HBO series that demands a long attention span from its viewers, and whose themes may be read as a veiled metaphor for late capitalism (not my original idea; I think I saw this in Sight & Sound magazine). Peggy Lee used this TV series as a starting point to build a compositional structure that would allow all the musicians to play characters, and tell stories; one outcome of this strategy is that the album is nicely balanced between ensemble work, and solo spots where each musician gets a turn to shine. They’re all improvisers, by the way. I seem to recall this “story-telling” device has been used by other improvisers to get results in a group situation, or possibly to break down barriers between musicians who don’t know each other too well; didn’t Chris Cutler do it in some capacity?
It works well on this occasion in terms of delivering a varied album, although overall I found Film In Music’s musical approach to be rather pedestrian, despite their evident skills, musical chops, and rapport with each other. There’s something too facile about the playing, and the sound is too smooth for my liking, as though every player fears to get too abrasive or loud, and the atmosphere of mutual respect in the group becomes stultifying. Even when they attempt to get noisy or abstract, it feels like something done to create predictable surface effects, and I’m just not feeling the bold exploratory passion for experimentation or risk-taking. The upbeat tunes are fun, but they also come close to turning into cocktail lounge modern jazz for people who don’t really like jazz; the arty tracks, with their sad drones and listless meandering, just project a feeling of melancholy weariness. From 12th December 2016.