New American Wing
New American Wing
I went through a spate in my formative years as a 20th Century American Composer Chamber Music Snob, which is about as attenuated and alienating as you can be without becoming a Zappa completist or someone who trades New Order concert recordings. While my contemporaries at the college radio station would relish in Janes Addiction and Bad Brains, I would secretly skulk off to the listening room at the library to revel in the wavery small ensemble recordings of Gordon Mumma and Morton Feldman. My friend's favorite song was a live bootleg "Ed's Dead" by the Pixies, mine was a hopelessly obscure Smithsonian recording of Earl Kim's "Earthlight," a truly sublime thing dubbed a "romanza for violin con sordino, high soprano, piano, and lights" in the liner notes. But I took a don't ask, don't tell tack with this philia, since it got a blank stare from even music majors (who I have found to have oddly horrible taste in music. Like lots of Randy Newman and stuff)
Fast forward a couple years, and legendary NYC jazz-racket notable John Zorn creates his Masada songbook, a mystical and rich refactoring of traditional Jewish melodies that he cast in a variety of formats, from traditional jazz quartet, solo guitar and most notably as a string trio and avant rock ensemble on his landmark album The Circle Maker, one of the finest albums ever. I haven't listened to or thought about this record for a while until the debut, self-released album by guitar/cello/trumpet trio New American Wing washed up on my sonic shores. The way Daniel Raimi's reverbed guitar and Jacob Varmus' muted trumpet intermingle over cellist Erica Sattin's bedrock is a refreshing delight to these ears.
They move seamlessly from mellow jazzy numbers like "Upside-Down Turtle" and "X" to more academic numbers like "The Hare" to longing elegant pieces like "Over and Over" with remarkable ease. Some notable tracks are the folk-like plaintive melody of "All is Vanity" that sounds like it could be an arrangement of a Lefty Frizell tear-jerker, and the classy Duke Ellington atmosphere of "You Must Eat" all of which speak to the amazing versatility of Raimi's writing and the cohesiveness of the group as a whole. Despite all the stylistic ventures present, there is a decidedly calming thread running throughout, that will provide 50 minutes of some of the most interesting, thought-provoking music when you give this unique and stunning debut album a spin.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com