EDWARD RATLIFF WITH RHAPSODALIA

Barcelona in 48 Hours
Strudelmedia CD 008

More than a soundtrack, yet as descriptive as program music should be, BARCELONA IN 48 HOURS is a minor classic, codifying and amplifying the sounds composed by New York-based Edward Ratliff for a short film of the same name he co-directed and co-produced with photographer Anja Hitzenberger.

Designed both as a portrait of choreographer David Zambrano and a reflection of the Catalan city’s blended cultures, it can stand on its own divorced from the images. Ratliff himself plays cornet, trombone, accordion, celeste or Fender Rhodes on different tracks, and isn’t present at all for three of the 11 selections. Auspiciously as well, he’s employed nine of the most accomplished improvisers in the New York area to help him out.

Playing everything from Middle Eastern dumbek drum to conventional jazz’s saxophone and trombone, the others work with Ratliff to create an impressionistic, idiosyncratic set of variations on the themes. You could define the CD as world music, if the term didn’t carry intimations of watering down local rhythms to pander to Western tastes. The composer hasn’t done this in the least. Instead he uses strands of Catalan, North African, French, Spanish and North and South American sounds to weave an original synthesis.

Shorter tracks are mere image interpretation intermezzos. Usually they involve accordionist Charlie Giordano squeezing out variations on the theme in the French or Spanish style by himself or in duo. Sometimes it’s with the composer himself on celeste, sounding all the world like the what you would hear as a toy ballerina spins atop a music box.

Longer compositions rate higher. Starting at the conclusion, “Sintuba”, the final track manages to mix a North African-Sephardic flavor via musette-resembling alto saxophone line from Michaël Attias, who often plays with pianist Anthony Coleman, with percussion sounds that are more Afro-Cuban jazz than Catalan traditional. Considering that drummer Kevin Norton has worked with everyone from composer Anthony Braxton to Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, and dumbek pounder Seido Salifoski is part of the cross-cultural Paradox trio this tradition melding is no surprise.

Negotiating hocketing blats on trombone and bee-buzzing triplets on muted cornet, Ratliff is often cushioned by massed polyphonic horns. Sometimes double time flams and bounces from Norton then give way to snaky lines from violinist Sam Bardfeld, whose background encompasses work with composer John Zorn and Latin jazz groups. Venturing musically across the Straits of Gibraltar here, Bardfeld’s output ends up being half Indo-Arabic and half Stuff Smith. Meantime Attias’ note construction comes across as if Sonny Stitt was playing in a souk. Friction and rattling from the exotic percussion overlay walking bass from John Herbert, until everyone masses to reprise the theme as a climax and conclusion.

Earlier, “Night Dance”, which adds guitarist Doug Wieselman, an erstwhile Lounge Lizard to the band, features string sounds that draw alternately on neuvo tango, faux Heavy Metal and Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk”. Norton supplies both a backbeat and ringing chimes, while the slinky theme and variations revolve from Ratliff’s airy muted cornet and rave-up guitar distortions. On the first of four versions of the main theme “Barcelona”, Attias honks out stentorian baritone saxophone slurs, Ratliff contributes plunger trombone lines and the fiddler moves from waggling minor chord Yiddishkite suggestions to lovely, legato jetes.

Members of the ensemble are versatile enough — and the compositional impulse so strong — that a piece like “Horsey” can follow “Barcelona (duo)” without major disconnect. This is despite the fact that the later is a straightahead ancien tango —if such a term exists — played full-force by Giordano, who has backed folks like saxist James Carter, plus Hebert, ponticello — swinging and ethnically satisfying at the same time. The former is a haunting, near modern classical piece that voices Ratliff’s accordion with arco bass, sul tasto violin and low-pitched bass clarinet from Andy Biskin. It moves at a slow pace without dragging

The only puzzle is the need for pre-programmed guitar and drum beats from Chris Kelly that face off with Ratliff’s cornet and electric piano on “BCN”. With the jungle beat patterns off-putting and very repetitive, the fit is with the piano and definitely not with the mutating chromatic romantic brass tones. Perhaps the result makes more sense if you see the film.

No matter, everywhere else BARCELONA IN 48 HOURS doesn’t need visuals to be appreciated as a memorable creation.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Barcelona (band version) 2. BCN^ 3. Glass* 4. Barcelona(duo) 5. Horsey+ 6. Mies 7. Barcelona (dreaming) 8. Estació de Frabnça+ 9. Night Dance 10. Barcelona (solo) 11. Sintuba

Personnel: Edward Ratliff (cornet, trombone, accordion+, celeste* and Fender Rhodes^); Michaël Attias (alto and baritone saxophones); Andy Biskin (bass clarinet); Doug Wieselman (guitar); Seido Salifoski (dumbek); Sam Bardfeld (violin); Charlie Giordano (accordion); John Hebert (bass); Kevin Norton (drums); Chris Kelly (programming)