Bill Noertker’s Visual Jazz

Noertker’s Moxie & The MelancoholicsCurious Worlds: The Art and Imagination of David Beck (Edgetone, 2016)

Noertker’s MoxieSimultaneous Windows (Edgetone, 2015)

noertker-curiousNoertker’s Moxie is an atypical jazz band. Bassist Bill Noertker wields plenty of jazz ideas in his writing, but his chamber-like compositions are often built less like jams and grooves, and more like dioramas.

They feel like scenes, and that’s probably because he draws direct inspiration from visual artists, such as Picasso and Miró — and including architect Antoni Gaudi. His earliest albums, a series titled Sketches of…, were inspired by great artists and cities of Europe.

Noertker’s approach seems well suited toward soundtracks, where he could write musical sketches of the visuals and moods. He’s done it at least once before. When David Beck, a former bandmate in a jazz outfit called The Melancoholics, made an 8mm film of his own sculptures, Noertker provided the musical backing.

Now there’s a movie about Beck and his sculpting, by filmmaker Olympia Stone, and she’s tapped Noertker to do the soundtrack. It’s a combination of Noertker compositions and resurrected Melancoholics pieces.

A few tracks are brief, in the usual soundtrack manner, but most are fully formed songs, with lengths ranging up to nine minutes. Old-timey Jazz forms pop up throughout.  “Dona Del Cantir” has a romantic, sepia-toned feeling with jangly piano and a nostalgic flute/sax melody. It has the feeling of a circus slowly closing down.

“Little Jester in a Trance” follows a perky, offbeat swing rhythm like the 1920s with a modern fracture in the theme. “Meet Me at the Edge of Noon” and “Way Gone, Cool Cat” feature smoky barroom tenor sax.

The overall mood is sweet and wistful. Even a track like “Moth En Stereo,” with its crackling drum work behind calm sax lines, feels like a subtle smile toward its subject.

Noertker’s chamber-like writing manifests itself on tracks like the “Curious Worlds” series of snippets that revisit the same theme — a pleasant little bounce that makes for a nice scene-setter — in different clothing. The “L’opera” version, in particular, is an upbeat snippet dashed with oh-so-European charm.

“In Blue” is a cool four minutes of straight contemporary jazz with late-night piano chording and and some mild twists in the solo.

a2697060908_16Curious Worlds is a fine introduction to Noertker’s world, but for a more typical taste of his work, there’s Simultaneous Windows, put out by Noertker’s Moxie late last year. “Insula Dulcamara” is what I think of as a Noertker specialty — chamber jazz with a Euro-cafe touch — and “Red Waistcoat” is an upbeat number straight from a ’50s jazz club (with more modern soloing, especially by Jim Vaughn on alto sax).

The title track is a sinewy chamber-music journey, made more mysterious by the inclusion of oboe as a lead. “St. George,” with its improvised horn blaring, has the feel of two or three marching bands each trying to start different songs. And criss-crossing flute and sax mark the opening of “Caliban,” a track that develops into a sparse free improvisation.

The album also includes “Little Jester in a Trance,” which was picked up for Curious Worlds.

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