By Gregg Miller
This album has grown on me. I am maybe 30 listens in, and the groove has started to take.
I’ve been a huge fan of multi-instrumentalist Daniel Carter since at least 1998. He would play at Tonic (NYC) and when things got hot, he would take off his long-sleeved flannel shirt to reveal underneath, yes, a second long-sleeved flannel shirt. His work on Matthew Shipp’s Strata (hatOLOGY, 1998) first tuned me into his playing. His duo Astonishment (577 Records, 2001) with Frederic Ughi was on permanent rotation for many years, along with Principle Hope featuring the late Peter Kowald (Sublingual, 2002), Chinatown (Not Two, 2005) and the very relaxed Emergence (Not Two, 2009) with Eri Yamamoto and Whit Dickey.
On this record, Daniel Carter’s tenor sound is typically husky yet sinuous, his flute seductive, his trumpet with mutes is just so intimate. He is in direct communication always. Brad Farberman on electric guitar with some distortion and a drop of wah generally keeps it simple. He finds five note clusters and calmly works the variations until it’s time for a change. Billy Martin (of Medeski, Martin and Wood) generally keeps his attacks funky—usually in sync with Farberman’s guitar. Though his groove-setting prowess is formidable, the music here works best when Martin’s drumming loses the time-keeping and becomes another vector of improvisation with pulse, tones and energy. Martin’s brushes (track 4) on snare feel alive.
The record opens up with an Eastern flute vibe, a crushed, tremelo-wah guitar, and random crashing bells. The toms come in and a groove sets in which turns the Eastern into ornament. The drums and guitar synch up, and Carter’s flute is left to spin in the wind. The drumming speeds up, and the guitarist’s 2-note toggling becomes insistent. Martin falls a bit too readily into back-beat shuffles, which at times makes Carter’s looping daydreamy lines feel out-of-sequence wrong or superfluous; Carter sensing this tries a bit to get down with the groove, but that’s not quite his thing.
In the record’s best moments (tracks 1 and 3), we get a floating world of music, but more often we get two against one. The guitar/drums pair seem super in sync, which makes Daniel Carter, a true master, left too often out on his own, sometimes as leading melody, but more often just a tad lost. One of the free electric guitar/drum duo records I keep going back to is Giant Dwarf, Rabbitwood (Engine Studios, 2012). It has the virtue of being decluttered and direct. It’s sort of the record I want the Carter/Farberman/Martin record to be (just add a horn player), which naturally is unfair, since this these three have their own chemistry. For a truly excellent exchange and integration of Daniel Carter with electric guitar/effects and drumming, check out the track “Harmoniums at Midnight” on the transcendent Mysterium (Eavesdrop, 2004) with Morgan Craft and Eric Eigner. (See here).
In his interview with Simon Sargsyan, here is Brad Farberman’s reflection on the outing:
“Recording Just Don’t Die with Daniel Carter and Billy Martin was a really special day for me. I had sort of grown up on the music of Medeski Martin & Wood and I was a little nervous. I had always wanted to play with Billy. And though I had been playing with Daniel for a long time, I wanted to make music he would be happy with. And at the end of the day, I felt okay about what had happened, but I wasn’t totally convinced it was a success. But when I listened back, I felt really good about it. We had all been listening so well. And as is so often the case, our first jam was the best. In fact, that’s the record—the very first hour we ever played. First-time energy can be really electric.”