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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Jeb Bishop - Three Valentines & Goodbye (1980 Records, 2018) ****½

 By Nick Metzger

This fantastic release from 1980 Records pairs a Jeb Bishop solo performance at Café Fixe in Brookline, MA on February 14th, 2017 with a piece based on manipulated recordings of a 2015 solo date. The inexhaustible trombonist Jeb Bishop has etched himself into our collective memory with such groups and endeavors as the Flying Luttenbachers, the Vandermark 5, Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet, and his own trio with Kent Kessler and Tim Mulvenna. Here we are treated to an intimate yet animated set of solo improvisations finding Bishop in fine form, his delivery both passionate and inventive.

Bishop starts off 'Oxygenate' with measures of hiss and slide noise. Not your traditional trombone piece by a long shot, here Bishop utilizes extended techniques, mouth noises, pauses, and percussive clatter to conjure a din of sounds and rhythms that are at once jarring and trance inducing. At one point around the midpoint the playing seems to allude to the distant low flying planes from the cover photo (showing Bishop’s grandfather), at another instance you can hear subdued melodies chugging out through the clatter. There are no motifs, no obvious organization, nothing for the listeners to moor themselves to. There is only the persistent mumbling, percolating, fluttering, and growling sounds produced by Bishop in seemingly unlimited variations. Percussive popping and gurgling noises initiate 'Auscultate', which slowly unfolds into a buzzing, whooshing, and frayed confession. The title is fitting, as the playing itself feels internalized like someone talking to (or arguing with) themselves. While just as unconventional as the opening track this piece has a more measured, expressive feel to it. 'Bypass' greets us with growling, overdriven expressions and piercing amplifier feedback. The shortest piece in the collection, it spatters and groans like an ice cube thrown into a deep fryer. Bishop works himself into a frenzy, blasting and moaning into his instrument until you can hear its very core shudder. 'Downtown Crossing' is a piece that Bishop composed from live solo material. It’s an appealing five minute offering of electro-acoustic manipulation that pairs very well with the live performance and its inclusion adds some sonic variety and a dramatic close.

There is an intensity in the playing here that isn’t resolved through volume, but rather through invention and rigorous activity. Despite (or perhaps due to) its overall strangeness this collection is a remarkably enjoyable listen, especially after you’ve spun through it a couple of times. The recording quality is excellent, and other than glasses and tableware clinking on occasion, remarkably little audience noise is audible. 2018 has seen some fine solo outings thus far (Braxton’s Victoriaville and Fred Lonberg-Holms’ Bow Hard at the Frog among my favorites) and this comes as another tremendous addition to the set.

4 comments:

Alek Hidell said...

And apparently it's available only on cassette (which would have been helpful to have mentioned in the review). Why are some labels releasing music in eccentric formats like this? Is it cheaper to produce? I haven't owned a cassette player for years and don't want to. It's a terrible medium. What's next: 8-tracks?

Nick Metzger said...

Definitely noted Alek, I'll be sure to mention if the release is a cassette in future reviews. If it makes it more appealling a download code is included with the cassette.

Alek Hidell said...

Thanks. I didn't mean to come across as curt, but as I said, unless it's cheaper or something for a cash-poor label (as 1980 Records may very well be), I don't understand the rationale for releasing music in a medium that died out thirty years ago. I can (sort of) understand the appeal of vinyl, but surely no one is pining for the halcyon days of cassettes.

Nick Metzger said...

You came across as being honest and I understand completely, I'm not a big fan of the cassette format myself but unfortunately it seems to be the hip thing to do these days. I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a digital-only release for those of us that just want to hear the music. Again thanks for the feedback, it's good to know what you find helpful so we can include it in the reviews.