Andy Biskin and Ibid – Act Necessary [TrackList follows] – strudelmedia SMCD-014, 52:41 ***1/2:
(Andy Biskin – clarinet, producer; Kirk Knuffke – cornet; Jeff Davis – drums, percussion; Brian Drye – trombone)
Clarinetist Andy Biskin has a wry sense of humor and his musical ideas subtly twist jazz conventions. For example, his previous group had horns and bass, but no drums, which provided a different rhythmic context; and made the stage set-up quicker. He composes complex music which is eminently pleasing, where the audience can snap their fingers, shuffle their feet, and otherwise have an involving time. He’s inspired by composer Raymond Scott (whose manic compositions were adapted for Warner Bros. cartoons), classicists such as Stravinsky and Ives, and (perhaps with an inkling of irony), Lawrence Welk. Biskin’s latest ensemble is Ibid, which also includes cornetist Kirk Knuffke, who is additionally a member of the Steve Lacy tribute band, Ideal Bread; trombonist Brian Drye; and drummer Jeff Davis. On Act Necessary (Biskin’s fifth album as leader) this configuration offers a new approach to Biskin’s music. With this format, the trombone sometimes supplies the bass line, but in other junctures, the arrangement hints at where a bass line would go, and the listeners unconsciously fill in that space. Or the bass drum and brass horns vamp together and craft a groove. Turns out, there are lots of permutations which furnish a fresh jazz tone.
Biskin’s ten originals sustain a lighthearted appeal. The cornet and clarinet often establish a New Orleans-tinted front line, and the arrangements cheerily cavort from klezmer to polka forms, and from bop inclinations to marching band-shaded colorations. The opening title track has a flavorful flexibility which echoes both bop and traditional jazz. Think Sidney Bechet capering with J. J. Johnson. The cornet and clarinet’s treble characteristic presents an overall lightness, while the trombone and drums support a lower-register foundation with elements of frolicsomeness. Another kind of instrumental jesting jaunts through “Page 17,” which has a style reminiscent of Charles Mingus’ brighter side with a touch of Spike Jones. But the quartet never forfeits professionalism in favor of frivolity. “Page 17” is misleadingly mirthful; there is serious intricacy during the tune’s movements and sections. “Page 17” is charming and invigorating but not trivial. The introduction for “Whirligig” features a glockenspiel solo, which imparts a feeling of a kid’s musical amusement. The rest of the casually-paced piece has a similar sagacity, brought to fulfillment by Biskin’s buoyant clarinet, Drye’s jolly trombone and Davis’ lively percussive dashes.
Each musician shows surety and skillfulness. Case in point: Davis’ drums do more than just keep time. At the start of “Just Like Me” he uses well-placed sticks and medium-tempo cymbals to produce a winning groove which is effective without being too assertive. He changes the timbre of “The Titans.” Melancholy, twinned horns commence the piece, but as soon as Davis enters, “The Titans” veers into a funky, Southern-saturated number, a sort of parade ground, marching-band jazz, bursting with sashay and smile-smeared exuberance. Knuffke’s cornet has an open, voice-like sound which helps him connect in various situations; he’s generally the most dynamic soloist. He shifts into some bop-hued settings on the filmic “Pretext” and during a short break during “Just Like Me.” While Drye frequently holds down the bass spot, he’s no mere rhythm player. He takes a breezy and blues-burnished solo during “Just Like Me” and showcases a Crescent City zest several times, like on “The Titans.” Biskin also puts his clarinet upfront in many instances, but doesn’t keep the limelight for too long; Biskin believes in giving equal opportunity for everyone, and thus the four artists are allotted plenty of room to improvise, add embellishments, and so forth. Act Necessary is an entertaining romp sure to engage those who appreciate jazz tradition but maintain a modernist outlook.
TrackList: Act Necessary; Companion Piece; Just Like Me; Page 17; What I Wouldn’t Give; Balderdash; Whirligig; Pretext; The Titans; Annie’s Day