Packaged amusingly to look like a corporate annual report, Future(s) Now(s) is an upbeat mix of chamber music (in a fun, bopping mode), stretched-out improv, jazz, and surprising touches of folk music. And you get a bit of corporate swag if you buy the hardcopy CD version.
It’s a strong second outing for Bristle, an album where you can sense how much they enjoyed playing this music. Reeds player Randy McKean, who lives outside the usual Bay Area orbit, in Grass Valley, Calif., has retained the band from the first album, titled Bulletproof, and will be showing off the new tunes at shows in Berkeley and Sacramento, Dec. 6 and 7.
Songs on Future(s) Now(s) were all written by either McKean or fellow reeds player Cory Wright. Combined with Murray Campbell on violin and Lisa Mezzacappa on bass — no drummer — the quartet strides through mostly playful and upbeat compositions that show some intelligent twists and turns and often give way to short stretches of improvisation.
“Whistle Tune” features a relentlessly happy but complex melody led by piccolo. Most of the piece seems to be composed, with piccolo and clarinet popping up with tiny bursts in front of a lumbering, almost smart-alecky, arco bass by Mezzacappa. “Escherish” shows off more of the band’s jazz proclivities, with an early sax solo over a quietly bubbling rhythm line. That piece gives way to a more serious stretch of unaccompanied solos connected by somber composed phrases.
The band’s sense of fun comes out in some of the bouts of pure improvsation. “Butts Up” includes moments of almost slapstick clacking and whistling; “Conference Call” includes some high-pitched improv moments that sound like a flight of birds.
But the best improvised moments come early in “Hick,” where all four players criss-cross ideas, like friends skipping stones on a beach, all clinging to a folky idiom that eventually gives way to the country violin riffs that give the song its title.
The most serious of the pieces, “Sie Sev Lah,” combines low strings with what are apparently two half-clarinets; McKean and Wright took their instruments apart and attached the mouthpieces to the bottom halves. The result sounds close to regular clarinets, but maybe more tart, like a trumpet. Even this track, amid the dead-serious violin/bass chords, includes some joy in the form of buzzing and trilling clarinets.