October 4, 2004
Confusing the Devil
Rent Control rcrcd011
No recorded performance can hope to replicate the excitement and energy of a live show. But studio conditions and/or high-quality audio reproduction equipment can allow the listener to feel as if he or she is right in the middle of the music.
With all the best intentions of the world The Hanuman Sextet recorded the four selections that make up this CD at CBGBs Lounge in New York. But the result is that the potentially interesting musical ideas from this uniquely constituted combo fight for aural space among the crabby and tubby sonics that define CBGBs basement — even the rock bands play upstairs.
Its too bad, for when you can hear properly — and more importantly discern the tone of one instrument from another — the musical mix is intriguing. Instrumentation of the band includes Andy Haas on soprano saxophone, electronics and ethnic reeds; his partner in the Tertiary Trio, Don Fiorino on banjo and lap steel guitar; plus Mia Theodoratus, who moves in folk song and world music circles, playing the electric harp. The rhythm section is TESTs bassist Matt Heyner, David Gould, who works with other experimenters like guitarist Chris Forsyth on drums and ex-Bush Tetra Dee Pop, who curates CBGBs improv series, on percussion. With the assembled talent, the results should be spectacular. Maybe live they are. However here, the concept is sabotaged by the lo-fi sound reproduction.
Starting upbeat, the final two tracks fare better than the first two, since at only 7½ and 12 minutes each, theres less time to muddy the tones. With Fiorinos chromatic banjo runs mixing with Theodoratus finger picking on the amplified harp, reverberating polyphonic timbres result on String over Skin. With what could be the shake of maracas and percussion encouraging a foot tapping, rhythmic continuum, theres plenty of space for Haass snaking sax line.
Heyners woody strumming and keening harp overtones from Theodoratus provide the bottom for the last number, which is built around continuous multiphonic trills from the reedmans raita — a nasal-sounding Moroccan double reed. Eventually wooden-block and cymbal Berber-like textures complement Haas output and the piece ends with a hearty tongue slap from the reedist.
Unfortunately, resonance tumbrel confusion permeates the more lengthy pieces, creating more questions than answers. At certain points, for instance, when Haas is trilling and smearing double toned reverberations on top of a steady percussion beat and string contributions is the intent drama or parody? Protruding from the aural ooze the reed and rhythm tone could be approximating James Chance and the Contortions punk-jazz or Henry Threadgills Very Very Circus. Electronics may further redefine the sound with oscillator loops and flutters, but it should be easier to ascribe the Rebetika inflections to either harp glissandos or steel guitar riffs. And the suspicion remains that some of the string distortions heard are accidental rather than planned. Its almost certain as well, that the muezzin-oriented vocalizing evident at a couple of place is pre-recorded.
Elsewhere the bass line goes from spiccato to tubby, harp tones sound like those of a guzheng — although that may be on purpose — and the percussionists bounce from merely supplying a simple accompanying groove to moving too far into the foreground.
Hopefully The Hanuman Sextet will produce another CD soon that will properly reflect what it can do. The lesson from this session is that CBGBs lounge is an excellent, inexpensive place to see freestyle jazz every Sunday night. But please dont record there.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Confusing the Devil* 2. Incestuous Amplification+ 3. String over Skin 4. In the Djema el Fna+&
Personnel: Andy Haas (shofar*, raita+, soprano saxophone, electronics); Don Fiorino (banjo#, lotar&, lap steel guitar), Mia Theodoratus (electric harp); Matt Heyner (bass); David Gould (drums); Dee Pop (percussion)