July 16, 2001
Seeing By The Light of My Own Candle
Knitting Factory Records KFW 291
Does anyone know if pictures of Bill Monroe, mandolin-playing father of Bluegrass music are going up on the walls in Manhattan's Lower East Side clubs next to photos of Cecil Taylor and Miles Davis?
Perhaps not, but this is the second CD in that many weeks featuring New York downtown improvisers to show up with the mandolin as a lead instrument. The first, Ori Kaplan's GONGOL (also on Knitting Factory Records) used the miniature eight string sparingly, but on this unusual disc it's front and centre all the way through.
That probably tells you something about the openness to sounds saxophonist Rob Reddy's Sleeping Dogs band exhibits on this outing. Additionally, since the mandolin strings are tuned in pairs to the equivalent notes on the violin, it shouldn't be surprising that the mandolin maven on these seven tracks is fiddler Charles Burnham. His contributions certainly introduce a unique sound to the compositions.
Of course, Burnham is no stranger to uncommon improv circumstances either. He has been a member of the String Trio of New York and of some of guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer's bands.
Described as the most "jazz-like" of Reddy's many combos, which include rock and ethnic hybrids like Quttah and Honor System, these Sleeping Dogs can be seen as kissin' cuzzins to experimental noise makers rather than to more conventional bands.
With mandolin and then bass lines upfront on "See the Elephant", it appears as if the pachyderm in question comes from Indiana rather than India, and suggests what would have happened if a string band has been let loose on an Albert Ayler session. Little smears and swatches of sound come from Reddy's alto saxophone and John Carlson's pocket trumpet, with the drums, courtesy of Guillermo E. Brown of David S. Ware's quartet, getting a full workout somewhere behind. Finally the tune resolves itself as half dirge and half nursery rhyme.
It's the same with "Prayer," the final piece, where Burham's plectrum strums turn positively Neapolitan, while the sour-sounding horn charts create an air of sadness and melancholy. Even the enigmatically named "Rjoc" could see the band on its way to a New Orleans funeral, though it sort of drags rather than marches
Dissonance is the keyword when Burnham turns to his fiddle on "Child", going beyond the high pitches of first violinists to saw away on all four strings like a contemporary Stuff Smith. This isn't a viola d'amore, but a violin of war. Moreover, while the offcentre tune itself may put you in mind of a whiny child, the precise muted trumpet work is so hushed that you can actually hear Dom Richards' bass in the background. Here and elsewhere Carlson, who has also held first chair in Satoko Fujii's orchestra, definitively shows that his influences go beyond the usual New Thing suspects.
Those insistent on being happy all the time probably won't be taken in by the atonality and air of despondency that seems to hang onto every tune here. Who says music has to make you happy, though, considering depression is just as legitimate an emotion —or medical condition — as exhilaration.
All in all these sleeping dogs shouldn't lie. Instead they should be encouraged to play.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Street Angel House Davel 2. Victim 3. My Own Candle 4. Child 5. Rjoc 6. See The Elephant 7. Prayer III
Personnel: John Carson (trumpet, pocket trumpet); Rob Reddy (soprano and alto saxophones); Charlie Burnham (violin and mandolin); Dom Richards (bass); Guillermo E. Brown (drums)