November 28, 2007
Aaron Dugan + Jeff Arnal
Gordon Beeferman/Jeff Arnal
Generate Records GEN 11
Spreading his talents among music for dance, composition and improvisation, Brooklyn-based percussionist Jeff Arnal is as likely to show up in Berlin playing in a band with German composer/pianist Dietrich Eichmann as in a New York combo with other youngish stylists like trumpeter Nat Wooley and bassist Reuben Radding.
Duos seem to be a favored format, and on these CDs the Georgia native trades licks and ideas with chordal instrument players of widely different persuasions. His perceptive work on both wholly improvised CDs is outstanding in itself, although overall Rogue States is more satisfying than Dog Day for a variety of reasons.
The primary one is the other duo partner. Already saddled with an instrument that often drags players towards showboating and riffing, at times guitarist Aaron Dugan appears not to have yet put his suburban rock band tendencies behind him. “The guitar helped me get friends in Willow Grove Abington Township”, says Dugan, who adds that “nowadays I spend my time playing with billions of cool people and writing music and eating and sleeping.” Perhaps those “billions of cool people” appreciate distorted vibrations, Hendrix-like feedback and tremolo fingering. But what’s more worthwhile is when the guitarist trades his hard and speedy licks for slurred fingering, electronic echoes and simpatico comping.
Pianist Gordon Beeferman, who collaborates with Arnal on the other CD, is also a composer whose works have been performed by the New York City Opera, the American Brass and the Albany Symphony, among others. Part of that generation of composer-performers who know their Taylor (Cecil) as well as Webern (Anton) and Schoenberg (Arnold), his style mixes organic serial patterning and arpeggios with the key clicks, feints and jabs of intense improvisation.
Taking Dog Day first, Dugan’s guitar-hero-like speedy frails often seem to ram and pitch into distortions and extensions, providing much tension but infrequent release. One tune is even called “Flutter Code”, but the flutters that appear are more like short picked-and-popped phrases reconstituted with knob-twisting. Meanwhile Arnal slides and stops drum-skin patterns and scrapes his stick across a ride cymbal.
The ironically – one hopes – titled “Collision” features back-and-forth reverb pulsations from Dugan that seem to hang in the air, only to be redoubled, then downshifted as power strokes. His full-frontal attack on this tune and others pushes Arnal into a busier stance as well, and soon the drummer is mixing rolls, drags, pops and rebounds. Elsewhere, staccato connective polyrhythms redefine themselves as railway-crossing-like, clanging cymbal echoes.
Clip-clops, slaps, slides and reverberating timbres, plus a section of doubled flams confirm the percussionist’s adaptability at other points, with the cohesive virtue his understatement. In contrast, using feedback to apparently replicate a telephone’s busy signal or squeezing out Gameboy-like swooshes with slurred fingering remain Dugan’s highpoints here. Perhaps should he be involved in similar chamber improv in the future, he’ll relax more.
Playing electric piano, Beeferman recorded a session couple of years before this CD with Arnal on percussion and alto and baritone saxophonist Seth Misterka. The more extensive voicing, dynamics and contrasts available from the acoustic model aid him in creating sophisticated interventions here.
Building up to, and descending from, “Auuk” the two show their versatility on the almost 10-minute piece. Quickening his output from near-silent key clips and slaps with metronomic precision in the mid-section, the pianist hardens low-frequency vibrations into dribbling cadences. Contrapuntally responsive, the percussionist exposes a collection of nodes that form themselves sequentially into echoing friction from small bells; conga drum-like strikes delicately produced by sticks not palms; plus tubular-bell sounding slaps and wooden tones that relate to nakers. Climax finds Beeferman’s kinetic octave jumps descending into quiet.
On some of the other dozen pieces, the pianist’s downward glissandi and organic fingering intentionally or not pays homage to Taylor. Nevertheless, knitting deliberate stumbles and hesitation into his keyboard excursions confirms his originality. Stroked and slapped keys plus internal string-stopping help define this style, as does his use of intermittent dynamics.
Arnal manipulates various parts of his percussion set up in a similar manner. Rim shots, rebounds and clanging on the regular kit’s sides as well as drum tops provide unique timbres. So do cloth wipes and swipes on drum skins. Then there are the metallic raps, bounces and ruffs from snare and toms, that usually arise when Beeferman’s cadenzas are rappelling upwards. As a chance of pace, sound board echoes added to expansive octave runs allows “Terra Infirma” to head into jazz territory. On it, a half speed arpeggio rush coupled with a blues sensibility from the piano is met by flawless cymbal clinks and inverted sticking to produce backbeat drags and strums.
Rogue States is a fully satisfying piano-drums interaction. It’s too bad that in comparison Dog Day mostly reflects the negativity of its title.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Dog: 1. Pyrene 2. Triukum Shoals 3. Pisco 4. Flutter Code 5. Leonora 6. Magic Hour 7. APP 8. Dead in the Water 9. Collision 10. Lisboa 11. Last Legs 12. Allenby 13. Paz 14. Patches of Yellow and Blue
Personal: Dog: Aaron Dugan (guitar) and Jeff Arnal (percussion)
Track Listing: Rogue: 1. Split Screen 2. To Draw Us Near 3. 3. Limb From Limb 4. Oh It’s You 5. Pirouette on a Pin 6. Three-Wheeled Ride 7. Sanctum 8. Auuk 9. Whirler-Wanderer 10. In White Haze 11. Terra Infirma 12. Rift and Resonance 13. Enemy Static
Personal: Rogue: Gordon Beeferman (piano) and Jeff Arnal (percussion)