Sunday, January 19, 2020

Here to Play - Here to Play (s/r, 2019) ****½

By Gregg Daniel Miller

Like a sonic kitchen-garden, “Here to Play” is a bit messy, homegrown
yet welcoming.

Neil Welch (tenor sax + effects), Kelsey Mines (bass), and Gregg Keplinger (percussion) have put together an engaging array of free play sounds. It’s best on big speakers–to capture the range of that double bass. This grouping is not quite a sax trio, because the relationship between the three instruments is much more egalitarian. Generationally apart, these 3 musicians have been important players in the current renaissance of creative music in Seattle, and this is their first release as a trio.

Neil Welch (the sax half of Bad Luck) can make his tenor sound like pitched air around a windbreak. He has full control of multiphonics, flutter and mouth noise effects, electronic pedals. Plus, he can create instantly engaging melodic lines–and then throw them away at will.

Kelsey Mines’ throbbing bass and bowing brings to mind the heavyweight (sadly departed) Dominic Duval–his sure, resonant sound; Mines’ is somewhere between Duval’s work with Joe McPhee on Trio X and his CT String Quartet. Mines’ interesting other project (Earthtoneskytone) with guitarist Carlos Snaider is a smoother affair, featuring angular compositions and abstract lyrics, strongest when they both sing. Here to Play is looser, less about prepared precision and more about communicating free expression as such.

My first exposure to the playing of percussionist Gregg Keplinger was on disk 1 of the unbelievably great Not Out for Anywhere on Sol Disk (2004), with Reuben Radding (bass) and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter – one of Carter’s very best outings, by the way. Keplinger can play the hits like he means them. His drumming smacks of Elvin Jones for whom he manufactured drums, once upon a time, but then he played a month or so ago at Café Racer in Seattle in a percussion duo (with Jen Gilleran) without any proper drum kit—all miscellany, cymbals and sticks and resonate objects (including, from Gilleran, metal gingerbread music boxes with turn-the-crank random). There was space and sensitivity, playfulness and glee. All that abundance shows up on Here to Play.

“Arwen’s Dance” is perhaps the strongest straight-ahead statement with multiphonic overblowing as the hymn, and free soloing all 3 at once. This tune rocks out, as does “King Kep.” There are moments in “Arwen’s Dance” where the whole band simply flies.

“Storyteller” parts 1 and 2 and “Sonic Wind” are open-form, searching numbers, the former featuring arco bass over miscellaneous crash percussion, the latter led by long-held multiphonic notes singing– like where the wild things are for real, and gentler than you’d have thought.

Adorno wrote of radical music that it should be a “herald of the threateningly eruptive, the ungrasped.” Here to Play is in that tradition—though as a tradition, a style, an approach to sound-making and collective improvisation, with a history, NAMES, forms and instrumentation, we have to take up the question of what this music means today for us. Maybe it is something less (radical), now, and all the greater for that, as it develops and matures. The roots are there. Now come the flowers and the fruits.

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