Le Bain de Cristal

Another lovely package of lively and colourful music from Jason Berry, who sent us records by Nubdug Ensemble and Vacuum Tree Head at the end of 2021. Here are Nubdug Ensemble with Volume 2: Blame (PEST COLORS MUSIC 42.NE2), seven short songs and tunes played by Berry with his fellow Bay Area jazz-rock geniuses, including Steve Adams (from ROVA saxophone quartet), Myles Boisen, Chris Gray, Amanda Chaudhary, Brett Warren and G Calvin Weston. Singer Jill Rogers is showcased on four songs with their semi-nonsensical lyrics making great use of multisyllabic words – it’s not often we hear the word ‘formaldehyde’ repeated in a song – and alluding, on ‘Bluff’ to such unexpected material as “ratio of specific temperature”. As before, what I enjoy here is the taut and concise arrangements of a very original form of poppy jazz-rock, clearly executed with much intelligence and sophistication, many complex Zappa-like melodies on keyboards, and difficult time signatures and cross-rhythms performed with ease, not to mention the luscious chord charts. I’m always worried that a listener might mistake all this for a certain kind of anonymous West Coast slickness, but there’s real heart, enthusiasm, and passion at work here. The playful science-fiction comic strip illustrations are also by Berry. A delight.

In same package, this superb solo album by Nubdug member Amanda Chaudhary. Meow Meow Band (ACHS 6174) showcases her keyboard work and songs (some co-written with Berry and others), plus many of the same personnel from above, including members of Ornette’s Prime Time – the bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer G Calvin Weston, something which many musicians would regard as a dream team. Vocal segments are, much like on album above, an integrated part of the piece and often appear briefly to deliver just a few well-chosen lines, sung by Serena Toxicat or Amy X Neuburg, the English-born American composer who studied under Pauline Oliveros and has sung on Robert Ashley recordings. Once again, uptempo and intelligent jazz-rock compositions are the carte du jour, this time with slightly less emphasis on the tricky cross-rhythms and instead creating strong, semi-open frameworks that allow the unique synth work of Chaudhary to truly shine. One particular personal favourite is ‘Cables and Carafes’, not just for the unusual setting of her keyboard sound, but the sheer genius of the melody and its unexpected, but perfectly coherent, intervallic leaps. At just six tracks and slightly over 30 mins, this album isn’t long enough for me, but there’s a lot to be said for its concision too. This release showcases but a few of Amanda Chaudhary’s many talents, as she’s also involved in custom synth design and related software development, besides maintaining her CatSynth blog and TV show, where music, art and culture – and cats – are given their place in the sun. Very recommended!

Both the above from 6th January 2022.

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