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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Kate Gentile - Mannequins (Skirl, 2017) ****



A problem that I often feel I am running into when writing reviews is my flogging of a dead metaphor and over use of certain words like “texture” or “interplay”. So recently, in a ham-fisted attempt to expand my lexicon, I asked a musician how would you describe the compositions of drummer Kate Gentile … without a pause the answer was “well, it’s like jazz math-rock”. Yes, indeed it is, and I began imagining the pieces in terms of ∛, the occasional f(x), and a liberal sprinkling of \approx . Ok, forgive me, I have no idea what I’m writing. However, I can posit with certainty that an album like Mannequins is a deep dive into the swirling logic and exacting twisted phrases that end up equaling something quite special.

Gentile, who is immersed in the fertile music scene in Brooklyn, has worked with luminaries and peers such as Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Michael Formanek, Marty Ehrlich, Chris Speed, and Kris Davis. Her quartet here is comprised of herself on drums, Jeremy Viner on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano, synth, and electronics, and Adam Hopkins on bass. If you paused on Mitchell, and thought perhaps about his recent solo foray deep into the music of Tim Berne and his work with Snakeoil, then you'll have a sense of the polyrhythmic mind-teasers and deep melodicism that you encounter on Mannequins.

Track One, “Stars Covered in Clouds of Metal” is more than just a great name, it actually a perfect description: a slightly bruising beat-slipping thrust of chords from the synthesizer brings the Metal … its distorted and jerking rhythms sets a tone for the album and the clatter of Gentile’s percussion provides the stars. It’s a quick track, leading to “Trapezoidal Nirvana," which progresses along an unpredictable path. This time on piano, Mitchell provides the structure while he and Viner play tandem syncopated melodic lines that are at once teasingly divaricated and undeniably tuneful. Veering off the path that they have started down, “Hammergaze” begins with prismatic chimes, percussive and mesmerizing, which leads quickly into “Otto, On Alien Shoulders.” Following the earlier template, the shifting blocks of sounds have electronic sounds percolating through.

“Xenomorphic” is another short percussion heavy textual piece that eschews interplay for a more monolithic approach. There a is a great deal of variety within in the tune, though the dominating effect is the zigzagging lines from Viner and Mitchell. Hopkins and Gentile get into it during the penultimate “Alchemy Melt [With Tilt]” during a particularly free section towards the end of the 12 minute track. The closing “Ssgf” is an excellent summary of everything that came before, mixing the intertwining lines with an extended solo passages from Hopkins and Viner, into accessible but oblique patterns.

Mannequin’s is an excellent debut recording, and Gentile taps into the jazz math-rock which it seems that pianist Mitchell sits in the middle of (I'm thinking of Anna Weber’s wonderful Simple trio, and Tim Berne's incredible Snake Oil recordings). Heady stuff for sure, and absolutely perfect for getting lost in its matrix.

3 comments:

Colin Green said...

Braxton, and Bach, strike me as the most obvious influences. I’ve only listened to the album once, but it sounds like all thirteen pieces are generated from, and permutations of, the same basic melodic/rhythmic cell - like a set of variations on a theme - moving from the jerky opening statement of the first track to the serene rendition which closes the last Or, X to the power of 13 if you prefer.

Colin Green said...

Actually, mathematically, “X x 13” might have been a slightly more accurate analogy, but what’s interesting is that there aren’t just thirteen different ways the ‘cell’ is treated, but within each piece, it’s used in various ways, even to form the basis of improvisations focusing on a particular aspect of its harmonic or rhythmic character. Skilfully done.

Martin Schray said...

Haha, yes, "texture" and "interplay". I fall into this trap as well (especially with "texture"). And it's not so tough to avoid it. Who was the musician who used the jazz/math rock comparison?
It's a challenging album, I must admit that I wasn't familiar with her name before.