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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Brooklyn Blowhards - s/t (Little(i) music, 2016) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Also known as Jeff Lederer's Brooklyn Blowhards Play Albert Ayler and Songs of the Sea, this album seemed like it was beamed straight from my brain into my music library. The cover features art from Matt Kish’s MOBY-DICK IN PICTURES, which is prominently displayed on our bookshelves. The music is inspired by two of my all-time favorites, Ayler and Melville, as well as various traditional shanties and folk songs. And the lineup is a streamlined octet, with saxophonists Lederer and Petr Cancura, cornet and slide-trumpet player Kirk Knuffke, Bryan Drye on trombone, Art Bailey on accordion, and drummers Matt Wilson, Allison Miller, and Stephen LaRosa on percussion, chum bucket, ship’s bell, and chain. It’s been a few years since the great Shakers n’ Bakers has recorded, but Brooklyn Blowhards picks up where that band left off, trading the religious-inspired mania for a woozy maritime sound.

“Bells” opens the album, with a looser Ayler interpretation than most. Lederer channels both the humor and deep spiritualism at the heart of Ayler’s music. His arrangement is brilliantly rollicking, one of the more joyous takes on Ayler I’ve heard in awhile. Martial snare and accordion lead a pub-ready “Haul Away Joe,” Drye blasting out a hearty call, and the rest following with boisterous response. A couple tracks later, Lederer and Cancura blow the roof off on the opening of “Black Ball Line” and trade solos over rotating drum fills and marching snare riffs from Wilson, Miller, and LaRosa.

Mary LaRose joins the band on vocals for several songs, including a spin on Ayler’s “Island Harvest,” an improvement on the original. Here, the band’s sound is a bit more ragged than Ayler’s, and LaRose’s vocals are much better than Mary Maria Parks’s original line. LaRose simply does more with her voice, leaping and taunting Lederer, Cancura, Knuffke, and Drye to chase her melody. On “Shallow Brown,” LaRose is similarly playful, sounding something like a barrel organ up against Gary Lucas’s steel guitar.

Album closer “Insular Tahiti ("The Seaman’s Hymn")” is a Lederer arrangement of an traditional folk song, layered with LaRose reciting text from Melville’s MOBY-DICK. Beneath LaRose’s crisp reading, the horns blow a unison funereal melody, the titular hymn. It brought to mind Taylor Ho Bynum’s setting of Melville for Positive Catastrophe, a band whose chaotic playfulness seems to share some DNA with Lederer’s Brooklyn Blowhards. Regardless, there’s much more Ayler and sea shanties left to conquer. Let us hope Lederer and company continue their brilliant exploration of both.