Let's just get this out of the way. Chicago drummer/composer Tim Daisy is getting his second 5-star review from me in 2015. I don't want to give it to him – because it just plain looks bad, like I'm on the Relay payroll or something. But Caro's Song is simply that goddamn good. What follows is a review-length justification of my guilt.
Daisy's ensemble writing here draws heavily on the mid-70s Anthony Braxton model for quartet, which I believe is as fine and sturdy as the more popular late-50s/early-60s Ornette Coleman Quartet model (which was so successfully utilized by fellow Chicagoan Keefe Jackson on Seeing You See back in 2010). It typically involves a fast statement of the theme, followed by a variation, then a (usually looser) re-statement of the theme, then a loose improvisation on top of a skeletal structure. This is just the jumping-off point for Daisy, as he bends and folds the blueprint to serve the needs of this trio, which also features Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and James Falzone (bass clarinet). This is the group's fourth recording.
“Assembly” opens the disc with Daisy on marimba; and the group immediately calls to mind Jimmy Giuffre's late 50s trio recordings, as Daisy himself acknowledges in the liner notes. The collective improvisation near the end of the track sets a standard that would be difficult for any band to maintain; but Vox Arcana is simply laying the foundation for the rest of the disc. The title track follows, utilizing the 70s Arista Braxton composition model for the first time. Lonberg-Holm does quite well in the Dave Holland role, alternately scraping-&-sawing and plucking the groove (when one surfaces) with fine precision. The song ends with a compositional surprise: a Braxton-esque loop starting and stopping, fading out to the end.
This music is spacious, open, and warm – even when abruptly changing gears. The musicians employ a confident approach that reflects the amount of experience they have with each other. “Silver Light” is a perfect example, opening with long quiet notes on clarinet and cello, as beautiful as a Morton Feldman piece. When Lonberg-Holm and Falzone play long notes over a Daisy's busy (but relaxed!) marimba in perfect counterpoint, the sublime becomes transcendent. There is a hilarious perversion of the Braxton composition model at the beginning of “Objects,” that involves tweaks in the time/space continuum. Daisy seems to be dangling Fred and James from strings, forcing them in different directions and then suddenly bringing them back together solely through the intuitive will of his drumming. “Contained” demonstrates even more clearly that this group can play as one six-armed machine, with brilliant unhurried statements made by all, collectively and individually.
The disc concludes with “The Mad Dance,” which begins with Daisy playing a semi-Latin beat which is answered by Fred and James. Then Daisy replies. Then the response. Then faster. Then higher. Daisy switches to marimba, pounding out one note repeatedly before finally extending into free runs that actually appear to alternately extend and cut time. It's a trick that wouldn't work without the exercise that preceded it, but knowing this does not ruin the effect at all. He settles on a tempo and Falzone enters, playing a solemn melody over Daisy's arpeggios. Then enter Lonberg-Holm, plucking one bass note while Daisy flips on a radio. Static and a lone unintelligible voice accompany briefly while Daisy moves to the drum set. He slowly pounds out four-on-the-floor with bass drum, ride cymbal and snare in unison with Fred's bass note, building tension like the V.U. or Godspeed. Yes, this eventually hits the sky – but then it abruptly stops on a dime leaving only Falzone's clarinet softly landing us all on the ground. Incredible. I'll be amazed if a more solid album appears before the year's end. If it does happen, and if it's on Relay, I'm not writing that review! No one would believe me.