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Monday, March 1, 2021

Tributes and Homages (III of III)

By Lee Rice Epstein

Dustin Laurenzi - Behold & Snaketime: The Music of Moondog (Astral Spirits, 2020/2019) ****

There have been several albums recently of modern artists tackling the music of Moondog, the blind avant-garde Viking of New York City. For anyone unfamiliar with Moondog’s music, Dustin Laurenzi’s Snaketime doesn’t present a strictly convervative take. Where some other artists try to replicate Moondog’s compositions as-is, Laurenzi uses them as a starting point for his octet’s lively and fun romps through the songbook. From the jump, there’s the instrumentation, four horns (Laurenzi on tenor, Nick Mazzarella on alto, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, and Chad McCullough on trumpet) with Dave Miller on guitar, Matt Ulery on bass, and Quin Kirchner and Ryan Packard on drums and percussion. This lineup provides an inverse perspective to Moondog’s homemade instruments; rather than try and emulate the occasionally shaky voicing of the originals, Laurenzi and company transform Moondog’s miniatures into funky, raw grooves. The two albums were recorded the same night, January 12, 2018, at Chicago’s Hungry Brain, so it’s worth getting both to capture the full performance. Snaketime feels entirely at home with the sing-song melodies, looping through them in a loose, AACM-inspired performance. Several players, most notably Mazzarella and Stein, have been covered here, and their playing shines, as always. Miller plays some thrilling solos throughout, and Laurenzi’s playing and arranging demonstrate a warmth for the material and musicians involved. He cleverly shifts focus between different members of the group, with Ulery, Kirchner, and Packard cleverly toying with the canon-inspired structures. Take, for example, “Fiesta Piano Solo,” notably piano-less. One of the highlights of the full set, it’s a great display of the group’s skill and energy in a performance that, in the best possible way, barely resembles the original. Lucky for us, Laurenzi has barely scratched the surface of Moondog’s song book, and hopefully we’ll hear more from Snaketime soon.


Keith said...

Great series, Lee!

Gary Chapin said...

I came here to say the same thing. Very cool series. Thanks.

Lee said...

Thanks, Keith!