Singing Pynchon’s Song

December 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack… Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire (Singlespeed, 2014)

Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack: "...Awaits Silent Tristero's Empire"Boisterous and raunchy, with generous doses of off-the-rails confusion, A.S.T.E. is Kyle Bruckmann‘s tribute to Thomas Pynchon’s first three novels. I haven’t read the novels — except for the first third of V, and the music seems to capture the spirit of the book well: It’s fun and appropriately chaotic, mostly bouncing off the walls but revealing some deep thought, too.

And hey — the album has gotten noticed by Magnet Magazine, where Bill Meyer, who’s written about jazz for a variety of publications for years, picked it as the No. 1 jazz/improv album of the year. Kudos!

I got to see the hour-long suite, which includes movements devoted to The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, performed live last year at the Outsound New Music Summit, so I knew what I was in for.

The instrumental pieces, performed by a septet version of Wrack, Bruckmann’s longstanding Chicago-based group, are partly built around the imaginary songs that permeate Pynchon’s books. Bruckmann takes the lyrics and applies Great American Songbook-style melodies; it’s up to you to figure out which tunes go with which words.

This results in exuberant, singalong themes with touches of nuttiness, a damn-the-torpedos sound. Most episodes branch off into exciting solos or dissolve into stretches of improvising; there’s plenty of out-jazz goodness to be had in here.

I can’t speak to how well the pieces represent the novels, aside from V, represented by an appropriately alcohol-soaked swagger in Part One of Bruckmann’s suite — especially in the final theme, where Bruckmann’s oboe goes impossibly high and intentionally off-key.

“Part Two,” representing The Crying of Lot 49, presents a more sleek and sober approach. An early theme is just as catchy and jazzy as anything in “Part One,” but played with clean violin-and-oboe lines. It does give way to some jazz abandon later, with a buzzy sax solo over a driven, exciting rhythm.

All I know about Gravity’s Rainbow is that it sounds intimidating, but “Part Three” has its share of upbeat, showtune-style melodies as well.

Note that if it’s Wrack that’s doing the “awaiting” in the album title, then W.A.S.T.E. becomes a full acronym, just like in Pynchon’s book. And the album cover art is drawn in such a way that Wrack itself looks like an acronym too, so that you would have an acronym within an acronym. I don’t know if these things mean anything or even if they’re really there. As Bruckmann writes:

But that’s exactly Pynchon’s game: daring you to succumb to paranoid systems. There’s a dimension of reading his work that’s like firing a blunderbuss into a barrel of red herrings. No matter what your field is – rocket science, colonial history, organic chemistry, hermetica and the occult – he somehow knows just enough of your specialist knowledge to ensnare you in webs of ‘Kute Korrespondences.’

Physical and virtual copies of Awaits Tristero’s Silent Empire can be had at Bandcamp.

Entry filed under: Bay Area music, CD/music reviews. Tags: , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. markweiss86  |  December 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    OF the 15 musicians alluded to in group names of this Magnet top 10 I only recognize five. Of the 10 labels, three. John Corbett now releases jazz under the Corbett-Dempsey gallery name rather than producing or curating for Atavistic?!

  • 2. Craig M.  |  December 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I’m a little better off than that when it comes to the Magnet list, Mark, but there are quite a few cases where I know one name (artist or label) but haven’t heard of the album itself. No idea what’s up with Corbett/Atavistic….

    A few things on the list are intriguing. I’ve been remiss in not hearing Steve Lehman’s latest on Pi. And I’ve only heard of Travis LaPlante by name, but I like the New Amsterdam label, so I’m curious what he’s done with them.

    And I might as well plug my own writeup of Russ Johnson, who also made the list: https://wedgeradio.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/russ-johnson-on-relay-records/

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