Deep Listening Band - Great Howl at Town Hall (Imprec, 2012) ****
Deep Listening Band - Needle Drop Jungle (Taiga, 2012) ****½
By Stanley Zappa
Immediately upon hearing the first seconds of Town Haul, the first track on Great Howl at Town Hall by the Deep Listening Band, one is reminded of music's wide tolerance and the many ways of being within it. Immediately there after one is reminded that more problems are caused than they are solved by musical taxonomy.
Though there isn't a spec of jazzy on or in Paulene Oliveros, Steward Dempster or David Gamper, all but the most craven free-bop tonalists and their apologists will acknowledge the Deep Listening Band's verve as improvisors and their advance intimacy with both common and so-called “outre” sonorities. Great Haul steps outside of that antiquated 12 tone, tempered cultural prejudice to which “Western” music so desperately clings. While doing so puts them outside familiar realms, those sounds, dear reader, are the sounds of music's future.
Freedom from those (or any) constraints, combined with a solid musical concept almost always equals a singular listening experience. On both Great Howl at Town Hall and Needle Drop Jungle it's hard to know who is doing what and how. This, like the inability to tell for sure what is improvised and what is written, does in fact make one listen deeper; not only is there no 12 or 36 bar form repeating again and again, also missing are familiar tropes that have become synonymous with familiar instrumentation.
That only 3 laborers, and not a dozen or more, generated the thick layers of sound on Great Horn Howl is a frightening omen in a music economy as much decimated as it was “transformed” by digital technology. Regardless, the promise and the glory of zeros and ones are celebrated in thoughtful style without ever giving in to factory preset convenience.
Needle Drop Jungle continues along this trajectory, though the general posture (as manifest in sonority and attack) is more tart and acidic than Great Haul at Town Hall. The ante has been upped, the gloves are off. Through tamber and attack, Friday Mighty offers a grandeur and tension unheard on Great Haul at Town Hall. Tomorrow's Power doubly so, while stepping even further away from the tempered scale than Great Haul.
There is a grace to both recordings often absent in realizations of music derived from written sources or reliant upon repeating chord progression that still obey and believe in “the rules of harmony.” There is also the feeling that music is being celebrated as opposed to the well worn, routine fetischization of Tin Pan Alley. 500 years from now, if there is still such a thing as music or people to listen to it, when set against colleagues and contemporaries, the Deep Listening Band will stand apart as unique in their visionary integration of the acoustic with electronica without capitulation or compromise. Lucky us, we get to listen to them now.