CHAMA

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CHAMA — Hexagono (Falcon Gumba, 2020)

CHAMA applies a garage-band approach to creative jazz, creating music that’s rigorous but just feels fun. The violin-guitar-drums trio met years ago in Venezuela (where “chama” is colloquial for “girl”) and have since reconvened in New York. Having released a couple of EPs a few years ago, they’ve been issuing digital tracks this year on the Falcon Gumba label, run by violinist Leonor Falcón.

On “Hexagono,” CHAMA dips into smart math rock, built on a glitchy phrase that ends with an unmistakable flourish. “Carupano” runs at a cooler temperature on a sly but energetic jazzy groove. And “Kids,” written by drummer Arturo García, puts heavier emphasis on Juanma Trujillo’s guitar, a midtempo chugging followed by slow, bluesy reverb.

Outside CHAMA, Falcón’s creative music output has tracked closer to jazz. Her album IMAGA MONDO, esperanto for “imaginary world,” includes Trujillo alongside bass clarinet and drums, playing music ranging from modernized swing (“Gnomes”) to abstract melodic sketches (“Nymphs and Spaceman,” with multiple overdubbed violins) to an uplifting anthem (“Humanoides.”) A playful violin-viola duet called Peach & Tomato, pairing Falcón with Sana Nagano, operates on a sense of conversational forward motion, adding some electrified sounds for texture.

Trujillo has some output on Falcon Gumba too. El Vecino is a quartet with trumpet; Sferos is a trio with sax and drums that gets into some looser, untethered exploration.

Here are a few more snippets of CHAMA in action.

Inward Creature

Inward CreatureInward Creature (self-released, 2020)

Inward-Creature_LP_Album-Art_Digital-SQ_v24Inward Creature spins giddy but smart pop songs where the musicianship is on point and the ideas are flinging madly from all sides, from the outright absurd to the earnest (I think) pop love song “Carly.” The attitude skews toward class cloud but ranges all the way to sincere singer-songwriter. The genre influences run from metal to lite rock, with an honestly catchy country melody thrown in (“Pull Over to Pray,” which is musically so straightforward it seems out of place).

If you start with “Liar” — where the chorus is “I’m such a f**king liar” repeated eight times — you’ll think you’ve stumbled onto a novelty band. But that’s not the right box for these guys. “Jilly Jolly” is heavy in guitars and mood (the opening has shades of “Dirty Boy” by Cardiacs) and “Everybody Nose” (yes it’s a pun) turns out to be a mini-suite with a serious middle amid the stomping cleverness.

Farther out on the goofiness axis, “My Time in the ’60s” sounds just like its title, musically conjuring up TV game shows and explosive yellow and orange fashions. “Little Things” takes a nursery-rhyme 6/8 melody and packs it to the gills with lyrics for a cute, likable package. “Reptile Tears” is part smart-alecky prog, part skate-punk, part cartoon, with a moody avant-jazz sax solo.

If you’re looking for a more direct link to avant-garde jazz, note that the drummer here is Jordan Glenn. He plays heavy improv in the Fred Frith Trio, artsy folk/prog with Jack o’ the Clock, and jazz in any number of ensembles — and he has an offbeat sense of humor himself. He named a band Wiener Kids and named one of their albums Why Don’t You Make Me?

You can hear the whole Inward Creature album on Bandcamp. But first, you gotta take 2 minutes and hear “My Time in the ’60s.” You just do. And as long as “Pull Over to Pray” is stuck in my head, I might as well try to stick you with it too.

A Cavalcade of Solos

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While music sales can’t make up for the loss of gigs, recordings are the main product musicians can offer right now. Assuming social distancing stays in place for months to come — which it should — what happens when the backlog of ensemble/band album releases dries up?

A pop band can record an album piecemeal in home studios. But jazz and improv, even chamber music, rely more on the artistry and strength of real-time interaction. Track-by-track recording doesn’t seem ideal. It’s certainly possible, as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra shows with “Quarantine Blues.” Likewise, group performances (and therefore group recordings) over the internet are certainly possible. Mark Dresser has been researching that angle for more than a decade with his Telematics project, and technology has largely caught up to the ideas he was first envisioning.

But the more likely route for most improv-heavy, free-form experimental music, especially given the budgets involved, is a burst of solo recordings.

It’s already started. Saxophonist Steve Lehman fired an early salvo with Xenakis and the Valedictorian, recorded literally in his car. (His wife, filmmaker Olivia Newman, caught some of the magic on video.) As Nate Chinen explains on his WBGO blog, Lehman’s EP one of several solo/duo projects that Pi Recordings plans to issue in the coming weeks, with all proceeds going directly to the artists.

On the local front, clarinetist Ben Goldberg is recording an ongoing Plague Diary, measuring 56 tracks and counting. Kyle Bruckmann likewise recorded a quarantine sketchbook called Draußen ist Feindlich. Both are available on Bandcamp.

 

Tim Berne even recorded his first-ever solo album, Sacred Vowels.


Of course, solo performance is an established genre of its own. Just about every free-improv performer puts out at least one solo record, it seems. And computers and looping can turn live solo performance into a multi-layered experience; Goldberg started doing that with even the earliest Plague Diary tracks.

Stray thought: On the rock/pop end of the spectrum, music is recorded piecemeal in the first place, so it’s easy to envision a band recording all their parts at home and engineering them into a normal-sounding album. What if you tried the same thing with free improvisation — passing a recording from one musician to the next, layering something together “exquisite corpse” style? There must be a recorded example of this out there somewhere, but whether there is or not, it would be fun to see someone try.

Photo: kylejglenn on Unsplash.

Gray Wisps of Sound

Divided StateSpurious Emissions (Edgetone, 2019)

dividedstate-spuriousThis is synthesizer-driven noise in a gentler vein, a hovering fog. It’s built from understated, patient sounds, an aesthetic close to ambient but with more motion. The backgrounds are built from field recordings and distorted samples — ghost images resembling distorted birdsong, crunchy footfalls, a ghostly railroad crossing, or sparse record-vinyl static.

“Synthesizer” is a loaded word that suggests all manner of dated sounds, but Spurious Emissions doesn’t come across as campy. The occasional sci-fi noises don’t appear as laser blasts. They’re more like pensive, sustained notes, mixing with the gray wisps of the sampled sounds.

“Arboreal Metaphor” turns up the echoing, resonant effects for a broad-landscape view before coalescing into a language of content, scribbled sounds. Most tracks, though, are more in the vein of “Shaman of Static Motion,” which hovers ghostlike, a toneless ambience colored by the occasional electronic buzz.

Divided State is the duo of Andre Custodio, who performs solo noise music under the name Nihil Communication, and Leroy Clark. Both contribute to the synths and the sampled sounds. 

Aruán Ortiz: Inside Rhythmic Falls

Aruán OrtizInside Rhythmic Falls (Intakt, 2020)

booklet_339.inddTo my suburban ears, the term “Cuban,” applied to music, means flamboyant costumes and screamy horns. But Cuban-born Aruán Ortiz’s Cub(an)ism (Intakt, 2017) was a solo piano album characterized by careful motion and stern, lingering chords. His aesthetic allows for surges of free jazz — I’ve seen them live — but Ortiz’s music is a lot about patience.

Same for Andrew Cyrille. His recent work on ECM has explored quiet spaces and the hovering flow of slow time. They make a fitting pair on Inside Rhythmic Falls, which is mostly a duo album with Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera joining occasionally.

Fitting, to the point where this sometimes sounds like a drums album that happens to have piano on it. Pensive tracks such as “Argelier’s Discipline” use Cyrille’s quiet taps as a narrative, with Ortiz adding color on piano.

Even the brisk, spattering “Conversation with the Oaks” has a cerebral side, providing plenty of space to savor Cyrille’s restrained backdrop, his watercolor dabs of snare.

Among the less abstract tracks, “Golden Voice” romps rhythmically, and the spacious “De Cantos y Ñáñigos” has the feel of a deconstructed ballad. “Inside Rhythmic Falls, Part I (Sacred Codes)” is a busy moment featuring Herrera, a forest of clacking behind Cyrille soloing on toms. It feels serious rather than celebratory; this is not made-for-TV Cubanism. It’s more like a a canvas for Cyrille’s soloing, and it’s about communication and culture, not excess.

The album starts with Ortiz’s poem “Lucero Mundo,” spoken by loose overlapping voices over quiet drums. The contrasting closer, “Para ti nengón,” backs Ortiz with rhythmic voices chanting a popular Cuban song. It’s a fittingly quiet coda, with Ortiz casually tossing around some jazzy licks and runs.