May 6, 2012
By Ken Waxman
Polymath percussionist Jeff Arnal has pursued parallel paths since his arrival in New York in 2000. Collaborating with a wide range of musicians both in the US and Europe he’s found forums to display both the aggressive punk-like approach that initially attracted him to music plus the improvisational subtleties he picked up following his studies with contemporary composer Stuart Saunders Smith and percussion master Milford Graves.
Pail Bug is recorded with his long-time associate, Berlin-based pianist Dietrich Eichmann plus two bassists, Hamburg-based American expatriate John Hughes and German Astrid Weins, intensifies the free music side of Arnal’s talents. For Eichmann’s contributions are crucial to the elaboration of the five instant compositions or “pails”. A schooled composer who has written pieces for the SWR Symphony Orchestra, the Lyon Opéra Ballet as well as a concerto for saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and the Ensemble Modern, Eichmann still fits seamlessly into an improv setting. Here he superimposes keyboard clanks and clips onto the agitated friction produced by tandem slashing bow work or sly pizzicato pops from the dual bassists. Meanwhile Arnal’s rhythmic interpolations encompass everything from positioned press rolls to miniature bell pings and cymbal scratches. Frequently as well, the group interface fragments enough for protracted duo or trio interludes within the lengthier tracks.
Eichmann’s high-frequency chording and dynamic contrasts are particularly distinctive on “Second Pail” when, after an abrasive race across the keys, he outlines a new melody sequence that is swiftly taken up by Hughes and Weins. As the drummer doubles his strokes to create polyrhythms, the bull fiddlers separate their responses into high-pitched shrills or low-pitched plucks. Eventually it’s the pianist’s cascading chords, strengthened with pedal power, that push the others together to a satisfying collusion. Eichmann operates similarly on “Third Pail” as he builds metronomic pulses and kinetic left-handed keyboard rumbles into a pressurized theme whose tension only dissipates due to Arnal’ subtle percussion accents.
Pail Bug may be only one part of Arnal’s musical identity. But the creativity showcased on the CD suggests the quartet’s more frequent exposure would doubtless result in even more memorable sounds.
Tracks: First Pail; Second Pail; Third Pail; Fourth Pail; Fifth Pail
Personnel: Dietrich Eichmann (piano); John Hughes and Astrid Weins (bass) and
Jeff Arnal (percussion)
—For New York City Jazz Record May 2012