Moe! Staniano’s Moe!Kestra

2 Rooms of Uranium inside 83 Markers
Edgetone Records EDT 4064

Frank Zappa once said something to the effect that writing about music was like dancing about architecture. While the sentiments may be apt, with this CD Bay area percussionist-composer Moe! Staniano has created a conduction for interior design. Using two rooms in the now-defunct Oakland Box Theater, Staniano positioned members of his 31-piece Moe!Kestra in separate areas of two rooms and a hallway. Dashing from room to room to cue different passages calls for the skills of a marathon runner, with this exercise in spatial organization also demanding stamina as well as individualism.

Luckily and despite – or maybe because of – the exclamation mark in his name Staniano posses both qualities. Overall the six-part piece – which shares the CD with a shorter, gentler conduction for voice and strings – impresses in its audacity and sonic inventiveness. However recording clarity does suffer a bit from spacing issues – separation in this case involved more than multi-channel recording and mike placement.

Purely a collective creation, any solos from the Moe!Kestra are by necessity brief and fully within Staniano’s overall musical context, with timbral coloration more noticeable than individual virtuosity. Electric guitars and basses were in the main room; brass, reeds and a turntablist in the other, with the percussionists in the hallway so that their beats could be heard by each of the other sets of players. Not surprisingly, the position of, and volume from, the nine percussionists ensured that the basic rhythm was never lost. But then again the man with the exclamation point after his first name also has worked as a solo percussionist, as part of such avant-rock bands as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum as well as with more straightforward improvisers like bassist John Edwards and percussionist Gino Robair.

At the same time this sympathy for rock music– or the strength of alternating currents – ensures that the electric guitars and basses don’t have any problem being heard either. Throughout wheezing guitar figures, feedback flanges, syncopated tremolo licks and triggered electronic pulses push many passages to crescendos. Incongruously enough the only other timbres distinctive enough to be heard over and through the massed din are the wooden pops, scrapes and pitter-patter of Suki O’Kane’s marimba.

Encompassing unexpected diminuendo, there are passages quiet enough to hear the scrapes and knocks from the percussionists, string strums – and even footfalls. But these are balanced by rowdy tutti horn counter tones, separated discordant pitches, verbalized crowd murmurs and simian-like shrieks. Spatial placement is most apparent mid-way through, when the taut, arched brass and reed sections seem to be literally propelling their parts from another space – which of course is where they are.

Spectral organization ensures that the undulating theme is heard as frequently as it would be in a sonata, but the instrumentation guarantees that most timbres are spewed out, phase-shifted and modulated in unique fashions. Eventually the summation – alternating wriggling and oscillating patterns converging from different areas – perhaps physically – with rock-like bounces from the percussion and reverberating tone bursts from the guitars, is mulched with cowbell, wooden block and gamelan-like concussions.

A lumbering postlude features chromatic hunting-horn-like flourishes from the brass, serpentine whines and split tones from the reeds plus martial beats from the percussion and low-pitched strings. Finally each section masses and explodes concurrently, leaving aviary reed tones and percussion rattles to echo in the silence.

If lower case improv exists, perhaps Staniano has pioneered exclamation point conduction.

— Ken Waxman

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Track Listing: 1. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 6: Depleted Uranium 2. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 1 3. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 2 4. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 3 5. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 4 6. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 5 7. Conducted Improvisation Piece No. 11: Two Orchestras in Separate Rooms Part 6

Personnel: Moe! Staiano (conductor) plus 1: Jeff Hobbs (violin); Myles Boisen and Lucio Menegon (guitars); Vicky Grossi, Allen Whitman (bass guitars); Marika Hughes (cello); Devon Hoff (bass); Ches Smith (drums) and Carla Kihlstedt (voice) 2-7. Darren Johnston (trumpet); Jennifer Baker (trombone); Alan Anzalone and Michael Perlmutter (tenor saxophones); Rent Romus (C-melody saxophone); Aaron Bennett and Chris Broderick (clarinets); Scott Rosenberg, David Slusser (bass clarinets); Jeff Hobbs (violin); John Shiurba (violin and banjo); Robin Reynolds and Theresa Wong Hobbs (cellos); Lucio Menegon, Pat Moran, Daryl Shawn, Robin Hiroko Walsh and Bill Wolter (guitars); Vicky Grossi (bass guitar); Christopher Brown, George Cremaschi and Lisa Mezzacappa (bass); Allen Whitman (mini drum set); David Mairs (drums); Michael Guarino and Sam Ospovat (percussion); Jason Levis (percussion and bowls); Peter Valsamis (cymbal and dumbek); David Leikam (hand percussion); Suki O’Kane (marimba); Bob Marsh (accordion and tap shoes) and Matt Davignon (turntable)