Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Skirl Records part 1

Writing a "jazz" post if you will, although the word jazz can be applied, the music I am specifically going into is the music created on tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed's record label, Skirl. I say "jazz" loosely when talking about the music, because I have read before that the label was started to focus on music that is unclassifiable and played by Brooklyn musicians.  Personally I think some of the most creative hybridizations of new music can be found in this scene...not on the Skirl label, but groups such as The Brooklyn Qawwali Party or Slavic Soul Party.  Both ensembles deal with so called "world music" the former Pakistani Qawwali, coming out of the tradition of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or the latter eastern European folk music.  But either way, both groups hail from Brooklyn, which seems a very happenin' scene of music today.

What is a skirl?  It is a sound used to describe bagpipe music, or a sound that is shrill, wailing and high pitched.  Fitting that it is the name of a label started by a clarinet player, who's first release SKIRL 001 is aptly titled "The Clarinets."  I was fortunate enough while visiting a friend in Philadelphia a few years ago to catch a Skirl Record Party, hosted by the cities wonderful not for profit Ars Nova music series.  I knew all the musicians before coming to the concert through various groups, but the record label was new news to me, and I think I bought one of every album they had at that time after the show.  So the show itself was MCed by Andrew D'Angelo, featuring the group "The Clarinets," as well as Curtis Hasselbring's "New Mellow Edwards,"  Trevor Dunn/Shelley Burgon duo, and a knockout performance of the Andrew D'Angelo Trio, known now as the "Gay Disco Trio."

The Clarinets were not "jazz" but sounded like a mix of Morton Feldman durations/dynamics (long tones very quietly) to almost electronica ambient noise, but played by three acoustic clarinetist.  Anthony Burr and Oscar Noreiga doubled on Bass Clarinet as well, in their trio with Chris Speed.  This portion of the concert seemed more of a "classical" chamber music event, that kept the small audience at the edge of their seat with the beautiful unpredictable music.

Next up for myself, was the most mind blowing group, the Harp and Bass duo of Trevor Dunn and Shelley Burgon.  I remember seeing very small music notation notebooks that had a few scratches written on them, which consisted of the pieces they played and improvised to.  I took a bunch of notes after the concert on Trevor Dunn's prepared bass sounds.  He used marimba mallets, rolling on the strings with his right hand, while fretting fourths and fifths with his left.  He had paper, paperclips, closepins, a hairless bow used solely for colegno(wood of the bow on the strings), as well as rubbed a bouncy ball against the back of the wood to produce a squealing sound.  Needless to say, upon arriving back home, I went to the hardware store looking for ways to prepare my own bass, resulting in some great sound experiments with friends.  Shelley prepared the hard sometimes, by using sheets of metal or blocks of wood to alter the harp's sound...but the duo was incredible to watch and hear the sounds manipulated in such a way.  side note, Trevor Dunn's "Trio Convuslant" has a great record out titled "Sister Phantom Owl Fish" where, with the addition of Shelley Burgon on harp, they play a sinister rock version of Duke Ellington's "Single Petal of a Rose."

Curtis Hasselbring's quartet was a feat, seemingly "easy" but incredibly well crafted tunes with Trevor Dunn on bass, Mike Pride on drums (Hollenbeck on the actual record), and Chris Speed.  They had a mean cover of the Pixies "Ana" as well as far out original music titled "The ABCs of the future" using extending technique and sound, but in a very pop/melodic sense.  My favorite was the tune "I'm that annoying guy in the back that always yells freebird" where Chris Speed played some casio keyboard, and Curtis used sounds of taking his mute in and out of his trombone.

Andrew D'Angelo stole the show, by starting off a piece playing solo, and getting to the point where he was lying on the ground on his back, playing saxophone and writhing like a snake on a fire pit.  half way through his solo improvisation Mike Pride and Trevor Dunn run up to the stage to accompany a trio tune with him...and Andrew's music was just fire!  Over the past year Andrew D'Angelo has had multiple brain surgeries to remove a tumor, and after all that is still playing and gigging without absolutely no loss in sound and creativity.  What a beautiful player and beautiful human being, I would love to see him in person again one day.

Two more records I want to hit on....the live groups I mentioned all have albums, but the other ones are Ted Reichman, accordionist of the Claudia Quintet, has an album with some really fun soundtrack sounding ambient music, little bit of everything happening on that record.  TYFT is another group, that's been around since before the label, and consists of Jim Black, Andrew D'Angelo and Hilmar Jensson.  TYFT for the longest time, was my favorite skirl release, with the guitarist Hilmar using an octave pedal to cover the bass range, and Andrew just rocking out on Bass Clarinet and alto, all backed by the powerful Jim Black on drums...It's like Led Zeppelin on acid but better!

I'll return to finish up another Skirl post to talk about the rest of the albums, and some of the records that are in production now...but do yourself a favor, and go to their website,, and buy some of the music, regardless of what you purchase, I guarantee It will be DAMN GOOD!!!!

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