DAN PLONSEY

Portcullis
Unlimited Sedition ULS02

Organized following the exhortation from saxophonist Dan Plonsey’s former teacher Anthony Braxton to “write music for the next millennium”, the 18-piece Daniel Popsicle orchestra is notable for both for what it plays and what it represents.

Officially titled “Daniel Popsicle Music of El Cerrito Volume 2A Moving About, Humming, Still Our Flowers Are Blooming, Under the Old Portcullis”, [whew!] the CD shows how a band of committed musicians interpret an original suite of 17 interlocking parts. Drawing on the talents of a clutch of Bay area players, the contrapuntal composition unfolds with practically no solos, but a polyphonic tension between an ever-changing melody and cyclic short repeating patterns.

Sound familiar? It’s the first demonstration that a variation of Braxton’s Ghost Trance (GTM) music is being adopted by other composers. Cleveland-born, but a resident of El Cerrito, Calif., near Berkley, for years, Plonsey, who plays C-melody saxophone, oboe and harmonica and has an M.A. in composition from nearby Mills College. A concert organizer as well as a member of many local bands, he has also played and recorded with Braxton’s Ghost Trance ensembles. Daniel Popsicle was organized in September 1999 and PORTCULLIS is a record of its work circa 2001.

With compositional fragments ranging from as short as 23 seconds to slightly more than nine minutes, it’s hard to comment on the piece except as a whole. Similarly, the only soloist who can be positively identified is Plonsey himself. At different times his C-melody saxophone lines tartly cut through the dense orchestration with seconds of swing and he contributes some off-kilter harmonica playing on “L2”. There’s also a polyharmonic vocal interjection at the beginning of that piece that combine medieval gymel tones and vocalese. Plonsey is the voice listed, but it sounds as if there’s another as well. Often Carol Adee’s strident piccolo provides the top line above reed smears and repetitive percussion lines, but that’s color, not a solo.

Other influences range from the electrified rock music/serious music dichotomy pioneered by Frank Zappa, flailing mountain music picking, faint echoes of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound string-sweetened arrangements, some clunky rhythm guitar vamps and diminutive big band call-and-response among the different sections of the band. Early on there’s an interlude that’s reminiscent of Rebetika, or the so-called Greek blues from the saz or cumbus. Moreover on “I” and “M” you could swear that parts of an Eastern European, czarda dance rhythm makes an appearance.

Plonsey’s musical reflection on “the relationships of plants and animals and wisdom and foolishness” differ significantly from Braxton’s, however the tension engendered in his pieces is also broken by some release. A mid-range climax of sorts is reached on “F” and “G” when oscillating electric lines combine with single-note extension from the guitars.

One guitarist — Zephyr Adee, John Shiurba, John Schott or Randy Porter — is also responsible for the climax and finale, which leads to the composition’s resolution on “O”. Floating over repeated reed riffs, his reverberating BB King-style lead guitar works provides a resolution for all that came before.

Now that three years have passed since this CD was recorded, it will be interesting to see what Daniel Popsicle has come up with in the interim.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Intra. 2. A 3. B 4. C 5. D 6. E 7. F 8. G 9. H 10. I 11. J 12. K 13. L 14. L2 15. M 16. N 17.O

Personnel: Tom Djll (trumpet); Tom Yoder, Tim Madden (trombones); Carol Adee (piccolo); Michael Zelner (clarinet); Dan Plonsey (C-melody saxophone; oboe, voice, harmonica); Zephyr Adee, John Shiurba and John Schott (guitars); Randy Porter (guitar, saz, cumbus, gong and porterphone); Tom Swafford (violin); Sarah Willner (viola); Danielle Degruttola (cello); Erling Wold, Lynn Wold (keyboards); Ashley Adams, Matthew Sperry (basses); Mike Pukish (percussion)