Vijay Anderson’s sextet performs Monday, Feb. 7, at the Make-Out Room, San Francisco.
As a drummer, Anderson has a nice free-jazz resume that includes Marco Eneidi, sax screamer Lynn Johnston, and the highly acclaimed bands of Adam Lane. More recently, he’s been part of the four-person axis that forms both Go-Go Fightmaster and Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait and Switch. His style can be fleet and explosive.
But Hard-Boiled Wonderland, like a lot of good improvised CDs, is more about process. Anderson sits more in the background or is even absent (as on the tracks “Nix” and “Dilation”).
It’s improvised jazz in a group setting, a sextet of equal parts where the two horns or the two guitars could be spinning virtuoso lines or providing the backdrop for the scene. The predominant sound is the vibraphone played by Smith Dobson V, presenting a cooled sound even on the title track — where the guitars, played by Ava Mendoza and John Finkbeiner, chug away continually, sometimes heavily distorted. It’s a drifting piece full of peaks and valleys, using long tones and guitar effects to build the music to its heights.
For much of the album, Anderson uses subsets of the band. “Skittering” drops the vibes in favor of letting one guitar and Ben Goldberg’s clarinet take the lead. As if to show what a group effort this is, I’m not sure Anderson and Dobson play at all on “Dilation,” a slow piece with rubbery clarinet sounds, carefully springy guitar, and some continual bubbling from Sheldon Brown’s sax.
“Swimming in a Black Well” is an Anderson/Dobson duet and one of the more directly jazzy pieces on here. Anderson lays down a jazz-aimed cymbal-tapping rhythm, and Dobson solos accordingly on the vibes. That’s followed by one of the least jazzy pieces, the choppy, all-out abstraction of “Nix.”
On “A Widow’s Last Penny,” the two horns flit among a shimmering backdrop created by Anderson’s rolls on the toms and the occasional splash from Dobson. Long, stretched guitar wails complete the picture.
A lot of attention is going to go to the title track that starts the album, but it’s the finale, “March at the End of the World,” that really shows off what the band can do. It’s also the one track that feels like it might be composed, or at least pre-planned. Military drums lead to shrill horn calls, a military declaration drawn in jazzy cartoons. After some loose improvising, Anderson starts into a drunken swing beat, surrounded by mildly chaotic group sounds.
Anderson’s Touch and Go band, part of the Make-Out Room’s monthly jazz installment, will be a different breed: four horns and a bass. A different sound, probably, with an intriguing lineup that includes Brown, Goldberg, and 3/4 of Byte and Switch/Go-Go Fightmaster.