Hope in Gates, Hope in Spoons

Tender Buttons is an American trio of improvisers here with their album An Established Color And Cunning (RASTASCAN RECORDS BRD 072).

It seems Tender Buttons was a 1914 novel by Gertrude Stein, the famed American writer who I’ve never read, but this particular tome of poems is characterised by its use of experimental language to help foster unexpected reactions in the reader, particularly with regard to everyday and mundane objects. Our musician friends not only quote Stein in their press release, but each track title quotes a brief line from one of her poems – e.g. ‘The Sudden Spoon…’ is taken from Malachite, itself an extremely short and perplexing one-liner. The music is characterised as electro-acoustic improvisation and is played by Tania Chen (piano and percussion), Tom Djll (trumpet and electronics) and Gino Robair (percussion and electronics). I think all three dwell in West Coast America and at least two of them have associations with Bryan Day, the mover-and-shaker and label boss in that part of the world.

Initial impressions over here are that An Established Color is not as raggedy and rough as many entries on Bryan Day’s Public Eyesore label, and instead the music is considered, carefully executed, and indeed even full of a distilled beauty. The players are not afraid of melodic moments and neither do they create a fussy, untidy mish-mash of conflicting forces. Instead, soulful harmony and peaceful vibes often abound, although the positive outlook is often spliced up with strange and disquieting tones, adding notes of ambiguity. They avoid wild, threatening noise wherever possible, and steer down a sunlit path full of interesting byways, weeds and flowery escapades tumbling through the imaginary parklands. Everything proceeds at a gentle walking pace, and there’s no danger of us fellow travellers being left behind as we follow our intrepid explorers. For all this, they still manage to produce textures and combinations that are strange and unfamiliar, and maintain our listening interest through their rigid concentration on the musical tasks at hand.

The music thus comes very close to realising in sound what Gertrude Stein aimed to deliver in her poems, that is a sense of unfamiliarity, seeing the world around us with a fresh pair of lids, or viewing our routine existence through interesting filters and overlays. A tremendous amount of charm and benign energy to be found in these 2018 recordings…recommended. From 21st September 2021.