What do you call someone who hangs out with musicians? A drummer. Remember that old chestnut? Even if a percussionist happens to be one of the very best in the land – as is Mr. Daisy – the prejudice holds that he is merely a timekeeper and foil for the “real” musicians with whom he works. In our (freer) world, we may hold our drummers in a bit higher esteem – due to the fact that they are creating improvised music equally alongside the players of more melodic instruments – but it is still possible that the musician carrying the drumsticks may suffer from feelings of inferiority in the areas of creativity and composition. That's what I feared when I saw Daisy's updated website, which now touts him as “Composer / Percussionist” on its title page. The joke's on me though because Chicago's most imaginative drummer is indeed very much a first rate composer. The title was earned – right here on this album - and now I feel like a first rate asshole for ever doubting him.
In the Ellington tradition, Daisy wrote these pieces specifically for each musician who accompanies him. Also like Ellington, Daisy's compositions are full of imaginative imagery. When he plays with James Falzone (clarinet) on “For Jay,” it's as if a mobile of birds is being controlled by Jimmy Giuffre, while Han Bennink repeatedly jabs drumsticks behind the Oz curtain, goosing him up the ass, in a ridiculously surreal ornithological play. When Daisy switches to marimba later in the piece, the birds seem more two-dimensional: like an old MGM cartoon with a third-stream soundtrack as Daisy tries to catch a loopy sparrow with buckets and trash can lids. Cartoon birds return in “Some Birds,” with Katherine Young. There must be something avian about the combination of marimba and woodwinds... In addition to containing a melody line that reminded me of Stravinsky (Firebird?), Young's solemn little flyer gets swallowed by a vacuum cleaner at the end. Damn cat.
It is generally pretty easy to tell what has been written from what has been improvised in each piece – and this is a good thing; although it works best when there is a seamless move from theme to improvisation (or from improvisation to theme). It happens often, but most notably on “Painted,” featuring Josh Berman on cornet, and “Writers,” featuring drummer-turned-pianist Marc Riordan. (Daisy is the drummer in Riordan's quartet.) “Painted,” which closes the album, seems to wander away from the opening theme so far that it is a jolt when it suddenly reappears near the end.
Dave Rempis' low register baritone sax multiphonics ridaing on top of Daisy's inside-but-outside drumming works on its own. Add the beautiful theme of “Roscoe St” and a masterwork appears. Daisy's duet with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, “For Lowell,” is an intricate study in contrasts, opening with Daisy freely banging to a sharp clanging vibraphone melody. They continue in these roles as the improvisations begin: Adasiewicz stays tight and angular while Daisy plays so loosely it's as if he's on a mission to make the drum kit sound smeary.
Let me also apologize to Tim and Relay. I did it again this year: the week of the Top Ten lists, I hear something that I would've included on mine! And it's my fault. I had it sitting right here, waiting to be heard. The length of these pieces is just right. No solo overstays its welcome. No theme becomes cumbersome. In fact, they're downright lovely; perfectly suited for each duet. The track sequencing is brilliant, encouraging many repeated listening sessions. And for you audiophiles, Alex Inglizian not only captured some amazing sessions; he also managed to record and mix acoustic piano and drums perfectly. Perfectly, I say!
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