Noertker’s Moxie

Walking on Blue Eggshells in Billville
Edgetone EDT 4220

Noertker’s Moxie

More Fun in Billville

Edgetone EDT 4221

Noertker’s Moxie

Pantomime in Billville

Edgetone EDT 4222

Over the last six decades or so people have sometime asked what happened to the breezy West Coast Jazz following its heyday between 1950-1960? The answer seems to be that it was reborn in the Bay Area, during the 21st Century with the ever-shifting personnel of bassist Bill Noertker’s Moxie combos. Celebrating the group’s 20th anniversary, the bassist has released this trilogy of 25 accomplished tunes all composed by Noertker and recorded during that time period. Except for the single bass clarinet, some brass and frequent flute tracks, the tunes stay away from expected reeds-and-rhythm-section evolution. But the mature arrangements and sense of airy humor demonstrates in them that the bassist and the groups have internalized not only the advances of the Cool School but also those of subsequent sound explorers.

A long time sideperson and double bass teacher, Noertker’s has composed pieces for the groups based on his appreciation of visual artists, poets, architects and sculptors. By definition not programmatic like some of his other discs, the Billville trilogy still touches on various themes and genres. With the bass player’s steady but fluid pulse gripping metrical nuances, the similar contributions from six different drummers and two different pianists – some of whom get solo space – horizontal cadences are always preserved. That leaves the definition of Noertker’s work to the horn players. The most prominent among them is tenor/ alto saxophonist and flutist Annelise Zamula, who is featured on the majority of tracks. A former member of the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, she now plays with numerous Bay Area groups. Moving among her horns, her alto sax riffs and asides during “McMuggles” contribute to its buoyant evolution as a circus-music-like follow-the-leader romp with pianist Eli Wallace that slides into double counterpoint when it circles back to head. Her tenor saxophone output on “Walking on Blue Eggshells” is a melancholy intensification of the squeaking and buzzing bowed double bass intro, while her undulating flutters create a secondary reed arch that connects with rugged sul tasto string rubs. On top of hand patting nerve beats from drummer Daniel Pearce, her flute puffs first combine with bass strokes for the lead then are contrasted with Joshua Marshall’s harsh tenor saxophone split tones. Meanwhile the most inventive use of the transverse aerophones is on “Threadbare Carpet”, where Zamula and second flutist David Slusser create an ambulating shuffle of peeping arabesques and laughing trills, kept from floating away by thickened bass-and-drum thumps.

Wallace’s contributions are emphasized on tracks such as “Feathers in a Cap”. As sympathetic alto saxophone extrusions and bass stops evolve around him, the pianist’s intense exposition moves from gentle tinkles to key pressure interspaced with Blues progressions as well as time-suspending asides, and ends with a waterfall of note spewing. On “More Fun”, Brett Carson, the other featured pianist, demonstrates his skill as he personifies the tune title. Light fingered, but with echoes of Stride, his key clips and string plinks later pick up a Latin tinge as he rides on Jason Levis’ percussive pitter patter and rim shots and harmonizes with Zamula’s refreshed slides, slurs and split tones. Adding brassy smears from Hugh Schick’s trumpet, “Flood’s Mood” comes close to straight Bebop as the double-time from the bassist and drummer create a near-marital beat. Zamula’s speedy tenor saxophone licks and trumpet triplets then give way to a drum break of chunky pumps and popping ruffs before climaxing with elevated brass pitches. Cornetist Theo Padouvas is the other featured brass player and on “Primary Colors” he and a tenor saxophonist trade fours as the jaunty narrative speeds up and slows down as a sophisticated mash up of polka, Jazz and waltz time. However bass clarinetist Max Shrieve-Don is underused on “Hi Jinks” since his dark full timbres are only used to harmonize with the flutist’s light colors, while the other musicians repeatedly create stop-time conduits where they yell out the title and drummer Levis gives a two-beat rattle, tap imitation of a Dixieland drummer.

Opening up his music to all sorts of sounds, while maintaining a groove and more importantly a sense of humor, Noertker has collated a triple-threat of notable music. With so many tracks from so many varied sessions, it’s impossible to choose among them. Maybe all should be investigated.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Walking: 1. L’Alt Empordà 2. Threadbare Carpet 3. Saccade 4. Hi Jinx 5. Twond 6. Desert Pass 7. Feathers in a Cap 8. Walking on Blue Eggshells

9. Sardana (Circle of Feet)

Personnel: Walking: Annelise Zamula (alto saxophone-3, 5, 7/tenor saxophone-1, 8/flute-2, 4, 6, 9); Beth Schenck (alto saxophone-1); Mas Koga (tenor saxophone-5); David Slusser (flute-2); Max Shrieve-Don (bass clarinet-4); Brett Carson (piano- 3, 6, 8, 9); Eli Wallace (piano-7); Bill Noertker (bass); Jason Levis (drums-1, 3, 4, 5, 6); Niels Myrner (drums-2); Jordan Glenn (drums-7); Jon Arkin (drums-8, 9)

Track Listing: More: 1. McMuggles 2. Belief Jerky 3. More Fun 4. Banyan Tree 5. Flood’s Mood 6. There is an Egg 7. Oblique House 8. Bear Den

Personnel: More: Hugh Schick (trumpet-5); Annelise Zamula (alto saxophone-1, 2, 8/tenor saxophone-3, 5/flute-4, 6, 7); Beth Schenck (alto saxophone-7); Mas Koga (tenor saxophone-2); Joshua Marshall (tenor saxophone-6); Amber Lamprecht, John Vaughn (flutes- 4); Eli Wallace (piano-1); Brett Carson (piano-3, 8); Bill Noertker (bass); Jason Levis (drums-1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8); Dax Compise (drums 4); Daniel Pearce (drums 6)

Track Listing: Pantomime: 1. Red Eleven 2. Impractical Joke 3. Lotus Eaters 4. Pantomime 5. Primary Colors 6. L’Escala 7. the Eel 8. Telephone Grilled Sardines (at the End of September)

Personnel: Pantomime: Theo Padouvas (cornet-5); Annelise Zamula (alto saxophone- 2, 8/tenor saxophone-4, 5/flute-1, 6, 7); Jim Peterson (alto saxophone-3); Joshua Marshall (tenor saxophone-8); Mas Koga (flute-1); Brett Carson (piano-2, 4, 7); Eli Wallace (piano-6); Bill Noertker (bass); Jason Levis (drums-1, 2, 3, 5, 6); Jon Arkin (drums-4, 7); Dax Compise (drums-8)