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.