Drop, Hop, Drone, Scratch, Slide & A for Anything
Charhizma 018

Will the big bands ever come back was a standard question asked in the jazz press during the 1950s and 1960s. The idea of gathering many individuals together to play arranged improvised music is certainly still viable in terms of excitement, if not acceptance. However, fans of such Swing Era icons as Benny Goodman, Glen Miller or Ina Ray Hutton and her “all girl band” would certainly be baffled by this disc.

There are 17 musicians present, all right, but 12 of them play some version of electric guitar, while the other five work out on laptops. Lindy hoppers and hep cats will very likely be disappointed. But for those interested in the future of large scale improvised music, rather than nostalgia, this singular, almost 48 minute composition, created by Marina Rosenfeld, has a lot to offer.

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Rosenfeld, who has a background in classical piano theory and composition plus audio-visual art, first conceived of this all-women ensemble as a way to mix her interest in turntable experiments with real instruments. This performance, recorded live at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art features the guitarists kneeling beside their instruments and using bottles of nail polish and other items to coax and force different sounds from their instruments. When that happens the laptoppers mix the results still further with a combination of real-time sampling, prepared loops and their own improvisations.

Indexed as 27 tracks on this CD, the creation is actually one long continuous creation that twists and turns at different pitches, tempos, speeds and volumes. Sometimes, especially in single string passages, you can relate the resonances you hear to the guitars. Other times you just know that the pulsation is being altered by the laptop in a way that brings to mind Dr. Frankenstein waiting in his laboratory for a heavy thunderstorm.

Happily, as well, because of the multiplicity of minds of the real people behind the instruments, nowhere do you get the uncomfortable feeling of some other laptop dates, which often sound like coffee break time at the robots’ cafeteria. The Sheer Frost may not fit the orchestral idea of someone committed to Herman Herds, Bands of Renown or Innovations in Modern Music, but the improvisations created are actually more ground breaking and contemporary than anything created by those bands. Jazz and improv has always been about the adoption of new timbres, and the innovations captured here prove that coupled with acoustic instruments, electronica in the right hands produces aural vibrations as legitimatize and memorable as anything else.

But no, you can’t dance to it — at least not physically.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Drop, Hop, Drone, Scratch, Slide & A for Anything Tracks 1. to 27.

Personnel: Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, Andrea Claire, Nilsa Colon, Barbara Ess, Chiara Giovando, Daniella Fabricius, Zhenya Merkulova, Kari Mckahan, Josephine Meckseper, Marina Rosenfeld, Yvonne Senouf, Brooke Williams (electric guitars); Alexandra Gardner, Kaffe Matthews, Ikue Mori, Kristin Norderval, Keiko Uenishi (laptops)