The 99 Voices of Kyle Bruckmann’s Dear Everyone

A trio version of Kyle Bruckmann’s Degradiant (I’m assuming sans voices) performs at Uptown Nightclub (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) on Tuesday May 14, 2019 and at the Center for New Music (55 Taylor St., San Francisco) on June 13, 2019.

Kyle Bruckmann’s DegradiantDear Everyone (Not Two, 2017)


The introductory movement to Dear Everyone is called “Overt? Sure,” and the first words spoken, two minutes into the 7-minute piece, are “lather up.” That pretty much sets the tone — that, and the horns jackhammering like an alarm clock out for revenge.

At its core, Degradiant is a quartet — two horns, electric bass, percussion, and some electronics — mixing free jazz with heavy math rock. But its debut recording brings in a huge cast for a large-scale concept: 99 voices reading poems by Matt Shears. For bandleader and composer Kyle Bruckmann, it’s kind of a follow-up to “… Awaits Silent Tristero’s Empire” (Singlespeed, 2014), his zany, ambitious Thomas Pynchon tributeDear Everyone brings a similar touch of absurdity, again framed by Bruckmann’s own Pynchonesque flair for language and love of words.

The readers aren’t pros, by design, and Bruckmann’s liner notes suggest many of them were ambushed with the idea. The result is a collage of voices and tones, some smooth, some self-conscious: male, female, varying accents, and at least one child handling the big words with some adorable stumbles.

Narrators come and go rapidly,  sometimes overlapping with an intentionally confusing intensity, leaving fragments of ideas lingering in your ears. This effect can be mysterious or, as on “Significant Details,” a little silly.

Musically, Dear Everyone ranges from humorous to disturbing, mixing the planned-and-intricate with freewheeling improvisation. Bruckmann sometimes ditches his oboe for analog electronics for darker spells of uneasy tension, and Jason Hoopes (Jack o’ the Clock, Fred Frith Trio) turns up the acidity on bass for the tough-fisted math rock passages. It all mashes together gloriously on “Sound Byte Culture,” including a nifty Hoopes solo.

There’s a sense of fun throughout the 2-CD album, but it ends on a jarring note with “Recessional and Postlude.” It’s sparse and somber, with a slow electronic pulse backing two voices formally reciting a full poem.

Surrealist Poet Jazz

Sheldon Brown GroupBlood of the Air (Edgetone, 2018)

brown-bloodoftheairNate Chinen’s excellent book, Playing Changes, devotes a chapter to the many innovations of Jason Moran, including his visual art and his business model post-Blue Note. Among them is Moran’s practice of transcribing spoken word into melodies based on that fluctuating pitches and emphasis of the voice.

I can understand the fascination with exploring the necessarily melodic qualities of speech. I always appreciate the results even if I don’t fully enjoy them — as with many types of art, the process sometimes interests me as much as the final output.

Anyway, I doubt Moran was the first to try setting music to speech, and plenty of others have done it since.

But here’s Sheldon Brown doing something I don’t think I’ve heard before: He adds swing. On “Oraibi,” the two-part opener to Brown’s Blood of the Air, he sets a clarinet melody in step with Lamantia’s recital and gives it a bounce that creates the illusion of Lamantia himself swinging.

(Love the soaring Tyner-esque piano chords after the intro, too, and the feathery sung vocal — that’s Lorin Benedict‘s vocalese.

Blood of the Air is a tribute to Lamantia, and I admit, I dreaded the thought of an overbaked poetry-music casserole. But creative touches (such as a moody theremin introducing “First Star”), along with the bursting enthusiasm and spinning inventiveness of Brown’s band, keeps the mix fresh and intriguing.

Here’s the theme from “To Have the Courage,” built from another of Lamantia’s readings and sped up into a punchy ensemble line. The vocal here is Benedict again, inserting vocalese into the melody of Lamantia’s speech patterns. There’s something very meta about that.

A San Franciscan by birth who would later hang out with the Beat movement, Lamantia is described as “surrealist,” but he wrote in normal English phrases and sentences, not the random word clusters I was expecting. His recital voice is homey, less stern than I expected, with an affected accent, equal parts Oxford and Brooklyn.

Here’s a full Blood of the Air set from the group, performed at the 2017 Outsound New Music Summit, with Lamantia contributing via recordings. You can sample much of the album on Bandcamp.

Catharsis and the Drums

Mike PrideDrummer’s Corpse (AUM Fidelity, 2013)

Source: AUM Fidelity; click to go there. “My ‘Ascension,'” drummer Mike Pride calls the track “Drummer’s Corpse.” It’s a 33-minute catharsis, a sustained blast of energy delivered by seven top-notch drummers.

Anchoring the whole thing, in a sense, is a wall of electric-guitar sound by Chris Welcome, a succession of fiercely chiming chords that stubbornly guide the music forward. “Drummer’s Corpse” starts with a few minutes of cymbal and gong splashes, a statement of entry — and then the guitar blasts into the frame, and we’re off to the races.

Little vocal shrieks and cries emit from the seven-drummer tumult, like people being swept away by a violent current. Where “Ascension” divided into episodes defined by soloists, “Drummer’s Corpse” uses the guitar chords — but really, they’re just curves in the rushing river of noise. It’s quite a ride.

You can sample “Drummer’s Corpse” in this trippy video:

In addition to Pride, the drummers involved are Oran Canfield, Russell Greenberg,
John McClellan, Bobby Previte, Ches Smith, and Tyshawn Sorey, with Marissa Perel and Fritz Welch contributing vocals and percussion. Yes, it’s a corps of drummers, and the title might be a play-on-words, but I’m thinking of the piece more as a serious statement.

The album is rounded out by a track that’s completely different. “Some Will Die Animals” is an avant-garde elegy for drummer Gen Mikano, who took his own life in 2012. Two lengthy instrumental trio passages, slow and tense, are each followed by two segments of “recitations,” which is where the real madness comes in.

Four overlapping voices reading the same text passage from different starting points, creating a surreal journey of short paths that keep tracking back on to themselves. The texts are odd, meant to represent a news broadcast that includes “global sex-terrorism, suicide, and scientific descriptions of imaginary future-animals,” as Pride describes it in the CD’s promo materials.

I don’t know the details of Mikano’s passing, so I don’t know if the piece is meant to evoke the feeling of voices in your head, beating relentlessly on the same notes — but that’s the sensation, especially with headphones. It’s not scary (and in fact, the text is a bit silly), just very interesting (or grating, if you’re not in the mood).