Singing Pynchon’s Song

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.

2 thoughts on “Singing Pynchon’s Song

  1. 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. 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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