TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
Serenity isn’t all that serene for the National on the band’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD). It’s the plushest, most burnished album from a New York City band that has increasingly leaned toward the measured and stately. This time, the National utterly refuses to buttonhole listeners; the music calmly awaits attention, but amply repays it.
There has always been a deliberative, classical-tinged element in the National’s music. It tucked minimalist patterns into its songs and got string and brass arrangements from composers like Nico Muhly and Padma Newsome as well as from its own guitarist Bryce Dessner, who has a master’s degree in music. But the band has also let guitars distort and drums kick into the foreground or pitted rock instruments versus orchestra.
Trouble Will Find Me, produced by the brothers (and guitarists and keyboardists) Bryce and Aaron Dessner, purrs smoothly all the way through; nothing protrudes or interrupts the luxurious melancholy of the songs. Guitars and keyboards are resonant, unhurried partners to durable melodies; the orchestrations nestle within the tracks, cozy and self-effacing. The music’s tensions arise elsewhere: in lyrics full of regrets and brushes with death, in the way Matt Berninger’s doleful baritone moves beyond its usual deadpan, in the gradual but eventually overpowering buildups.
The National has also added a subtle new device: odd and shifting meters that move the songs away from the subliminal comforts of 4/4. The opening song, I Should Live in Salt, works in sections of 9 beats and 8 beats, the extra beat jostling each time it occurs; the nervous undercurrent in Demons is its 7/4 meter.
Demons is a resigned portrait of chronic depression, with its glumness verging on shtick: “When I walk into a room I do not light it up,” Berninger sings at the low end of his range. In other songs, narrators watch themselves and others succumb to druggie temptations (Sea of Love), wonder if they’re dying (Heavenfaced) or drift toward separation and solitude; one of the least cryptic lyrics in Berninger’s catalog is Fireproof, with folky fingerpicking over a tolling piano, in which the singer tells a distant woman, “You keep a lot of secrets and I keep none.” The album concludes with Hard to Find, a hymnlike melody with a quiet minimalist drone at its center, and a glimpse of desperate alienation in the subjunctive tense: “If I tried you’d probably be hard to find.” The music is poised, but it’s not hiding anything.
— JON PARELES, NY times news service
The drummer Mike Pride has often hunkered down with music of physical extremes, working fast and hard and putting a lot of honest intention behind the effort itself. But as a committed avant-gardist — as rooted in the flintier subcultures of jazz as he is in noise and doom metal — he also understands the purpose of a conceptual frame.
It’s meaningful that the two new albums he has released side by side, Birthing Days and Drummer’s Corpse, draw inspiration from the human body at either end of the life cycle. Pride, 33, has set out to convey some basic insights about the heady miracle of life and the cold banality of death, from his own recent vantage. That he shows his creative range in the process hardly seems like an accidental byproduct.
Drummer’s Corpse consists of two long pieces, each a troubled meditation. The title track — three minutes of anticipatory rustle on gongs and cymbals, followed by half an hour of percussive hailstorm — feels like Pride’s precise definition of catharsis. At times he literally wails, with wordless fervor, against the heavy churn of six of his fellow drummers, including Bobby Previte, Tyshawn Sorey and Ches Smith.
The other track is Some Will Die Animals, dedicated to the memory of the Japanese noise drummer Gen Makino. At once calmer and more chilling, it involves Pride on minimal percussion, Eivind Opsvik on acoustic bass and Chris Welcome on guitar. Its most striking feature is a contrapuntal poem, recited by Pride and three other vocalists, intended to evoke a kind of deadpan Dadaist horror.
There’s less alienation on Birthing Days and a more approachable brand of craft. The album features From Bacteria to Boys, Pride’s postbop band with Jon Irabagon on saxophones, Alexis Marcelo on piano and keyboards and Peter Bitenc on bass. Jonathan Moritz, another saxophonist, and Jason Stein, a bass clarinetist, take guest turns on two tracks apiece.
For all his confrontational bluster, Pride is a heart-on-sleeve type, as shown here by Lullaby for Charlie, a lyrical waltz dedicated to his son, and Motiaon, a blurry folk elegy for the drummer Paul Motian. These are the simplest and most satisfying gestures on an album that occasionally swims in clutter: its title track is an 11-minute jazz-rock opus bathed in the glow of retro-futurism by Marcelo’s synthesizers.
Some of the terser material — like Marcel’s Hat, an angular new-music miniature, and Occupied Man, which races out of a free-form haze — indicates that Pride has been plotting this album for a while. And as with the thematic conceit, it gives the impression of a story just beginning to unfold.
— NATE CHINEN, NY times news service
Hush Point hasn’t been around long — a little less than a year, about a dozen gigs. But it’s got its identity down. It’s a New York quartet that effectively draws a connecting line through some of the best small-group jazz from one of the best five-year periods in jazz: 1955 to 1959.
What music are we talking about, why is it worth referring to and who is behind its re-investigation? Roughly, what Chet Baker did around 1955 (especially the gnarled and brilliant music he made with the pianist Dick Twardzik); the great contrapuntal improvising that Lee Konitz played with various small groups around 1955 and 1956; Ornette Coleman’s joyous postbop folk song of 1959; and the transparent, elegant Jimmy Giuffre groups of 1955 and 1957. Hush Point has no stated agenda — there are very few words on the cover of its self-titled album — but it seems to want to suggest that the Chet Baker thing often called cool jazz and the Ornette Coleman thing often called free-bop were cut from the same tree, which, of course, they were. (The tree is Charlie Parker.) More or less, this band is going back to the beginnings of the split between structured and free jazz, and binding up the wound.
Hush Point’s elder member is in his mid-60s: the trumpeter John McNeil, who plays careful, imaginative, highly learned improvisations at low projection. (His back history includes periods with Gerry Mulligan, Horace Silver and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra; he’s been working for a while on the larger project of folding music of this type and era into current playing practices.) The other horn player is the alto saxophonist Jeremy Udden, in his mid-30s, who makes his own quietly argumentative, tradition-mixing records, like last year’s folk art; two other younger Brooklyn players, Aryeh Kobrinsky and Vinnie Sperrazza, play bass and drums.
Because there’s no chordal instrument to overdetermine the harmony, and because McNeil and Udden are the composers — they like simple and strange songs – there’s a crunchy, unregulated, open feeling to these tunes. (Two others are by Giuffre.) It’s an album of dry and intimate and surprising music, much of it a kind of X-rayed blues language, volume cut in half, swing rhythm subtly stretched into more up-to-date grooves, emotional dynamics present but suppressed. It’s also an extended experiment in careful improvising, using counterpoint to move quickly and unsentimentally toward the open spaces.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY times news service