Alex Cline

Cryptogramophone CG 140

Larry Ochs/Miya Masoka/Peggy Lee

Spiller Alley

RogueArt ROG-0016

Tony Wilson/Peggy Lee/Jon Bentley

Escondido Dreams

Drip Audio DA00206

Peggy Lee

New Code

Drip Audio DA 00318

Extended Play: The “Other” Peggy Lee

By Ken Waxman

Established in Vancouver for nearly 20 years following extensive musical study in her native Toronto, Peggy Lee has become one of the most in-demand cellists in both improvised and New music. Occasionally working with her husband, drummer Dylan van der Schyff, but more frequently on her own, Lee’s string prestidigitation is prominent in meetings with Canadian, American and European musicians.

Recent discs show the range of her talents. Spiller Alley RogueArt ROG-0016 features her as part of a trio completed by Bay area saxophonist Larry Ochs and New York koto player Miya Masaoka. Meanwhile Escondido Dreams Drip Audio DA00206], is a trio with other Lower Mainlanders: guitarist Tony Wilson and saxophonist Jon Bentley. Wilson, Bentley and van der Schyff are also on the cellist’s New Code Drip Audio DA 00318 along with other West Coast luminaries – trumpeter Brad Turner; guitarist Ron Samworth, trombonist Jeremy Berkman and electric bassist André Lachance. On Continuation Cryptogramophone CG 140 percussionist Alex Cline gathered a similar group of California-based improvisers – violinist Jeff Gauthier, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Scott Walton to play his tunes. Lee is the only non-American.

Cline’s writing has an Asian feel to it. Scene-setting gong resonations color nearly every track, with Melford’s winnowing harmonium drone sometimes adding to the Far Eastern emphasis. Eclectic in execution, most of the compositions bounce from near- syrupy melodies usually advanced by the fiddler, to modern swing propelled by thumping bass and the pianist’s dynamic patterning. In between, Lee’s malleable timbres join with Gauthier’s brusque lines for thematic elaboration, or add staccato runs and spiccato jumps to advance the rhythm. “On the Bones of the Homegoing Thunder” is the most spectacular tune. It manages to wrap an exposition and recapitulation of temple bell peals and mournful cello runs around walking bass lines, kinetic piano runs plus string-clipping and triple-stopping from cello and violin.

Lee’s octet CD is less formalized, though no less eclectic, but democratic in its soloing. Both guitarists are partial to folksy twangs as well as Hard Rock-like distortions; the horns produce R&B-like vamps plus processional harmonies; Turner on flugelhorn is the languid melodist; and van der Schyff constantly pumps parts of his kit. Meanwhile the cellist personalizes the material. On “Tug” her angled sweeps tug apart into spikier runs the horns’ ceremonial grace notes. On “Not a Wake Up Call” flanged and distorted guitar licks shatter into jagged and ricocheting slurs as Lee’s spiccato multiphonics help gentle the theme so that it runs into the calming “Floating Island” – complete with muted trumpet – which follows it. Dealing with a tune as familiar as Bob Dylan’s “All I Really Want To Do”, her mordant modal interjections halt a conventional, C&W-styled reading, and encourage agitato horn shrills on top of Byrds-like guitar strumming and a vocalized saxophone obbligato.

Bentley’s woodwind arsenal has more space on Escondido Dreams, proving adapt at both speedy and languid tempi. “Man and Dog” plus “Monkey Tree/Just Stories” demonstrate this. On the first, the saxophonist defines the Impressionistic theme, along with Lee’s cello obbligato. After descriptive unison passages first with the cellist, then with the guitarist, sax trills dovetail into slurs as Wilson strums mandolin-like chords and Lee sweeps across the soundfield. Tougher and animated, the later is a roller coaster of a tune built on contrapuntal reed bites and electrified guitar interjections. Following a raucous call-and-response section, the guitarist’s chromatic patterning and Lee’s spiccato runs reintroduces the note-dangling theme.

Veteran Ochs uses more advanced techniques than Bentley on Spiller Alley, while the multi functions of Masaoka’s many-stringed koto negate the need for drums. Ironically, despite the textures of the venerable Japanese instrument, and unlike Continuation, this CD has almost no Asian reflections. Expert in rasgueado and chromatics, Masaoka treats her koto as if it is a combination harp, 12-string and six-string guitar. Bringing out node striations as well the sounds of the notes struck – as does Lee – the string duo attaches and detaches timbres to mutate the program as Ochs enlivens his work with wide octave jumps, staccato blasts and circular breathing.

Climaxing the session during the nearly 18½-minute title tune, the three criss-cross each other’s lines and runs, off-setting or cushioning when needed. With Ochs peeping and shrilling arpeggios, Masaoka unleashes a torrent of cascading tones and Lee exposes multi-string runs. The cumulative consequence showcases imperfectly formed but not unpleasant, textures from each. Operating in triple counterpoint, blurry interaction comes into focus, with the end result trilled, swept and resonated into a stripped-down mutual rapprochement.

While each musician’s skill melds to produce these notable CDs, each would be unthinkable without Lee’s talents and interactive expertise.

— For Whole Note Vol. 14 #7