Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies, This Land


Vocalist Theo Bleckmann I have come across in the Jazz singing realm (see my review here from August 26, 2015). Until now I have not come to know him much as a composer and artist on the edge of Jazz and New Music, with the notable exception of his effective appearance as vocalist on Phil Kline's Zippo Songs (see post of May 20, 2010). We get to experience another side of him on his latest, Theo Bleckmann & the Westerlies and the album This Land  (Westerlies Records).

It is unusual fare. Theo Bleckmann brings his voice and live electronic processing for a close collaboration with the Westerlies, a brass quartet of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpets, Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombones. The program is some 14 songs that emerged as a result of the five artists' collaborative residence at Yellow Barn chamber music center in Putney, Vermont during June of 2018  

As a kind of a natural outcropping of the unsettled political and physical world of recent years they turned to the idea of a music of resistance, of protest, of solace, of a search for refuge and belonging. Alternately, as trumpeter Riley Mulherkar puts it, it comprises "songs old and new that encompass satire, love, sorrow and fear in our shared musical language."

The striking thing about all of this is the situation and/or resituation of diverse songs for originally conceived conjunctions of the specially integrated brass choir and Theo's very musically nuanced voice. All this comes together with a handful of compositions forged anew along with an eclectic selection of songs from folk roots and songwriters of engagement such as Woodie Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, Phil Kline and others. 

The situation/resituation strikes one immediately with the opening rearrangement-recomposition of Joni Mitchell's old Clouds era song "The Fiddle and the Drum." Theo's bell-like vocal hews closely to the melody while the brass quartet harmonizes and periodizes it into a new experience, wonderfully rejuvenated.

Similarly innovative things take place in various ways and shades with the Woody Guthrie "I Ain't Got No Home in this World Anymore," and "Two Good Men" along with the Spiritual "Wade in the Water," and various others, including Phil Kline's moving "Thoughts and Prayers." 

The originals are absorbing and worthy. "Grandmar" by Andy Clausen combines brass choir with jazz leanings via some nice trumpet soloing. "Land," also by Andy, has tensile strength and anthemic memorability. "Another Holiday" came forth as Theo Bleckmann came to grips with the horrors of the Pulse nightclub shooting of 2016. It jars through its wish for a normalcy that events belie, contra various assertions out there of the "new normal."

The rare mix of Folk, New Music, Contemporary Song and Jazz elements defies easy description but upon hearing ravishes and moves us to thoughts of new horizons. It is music that consoles as it rejuvenates and always with an ultra-musical sensibility. I do recommend this one strongly if you seek a capital /n/ in your New! Bravo.

No comments:

Post a Comment