The journey is as important as the leaving or the arrival.
Bobby Previte – Rhapsody [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR090, 64:01 [2/23/18] ****:
(Nels Cline – acoustic guitar, slide guitar, 12-string guitar; John Medeski – piano; Zeena Parkins – harp; Jen Shyu – voice, erhu, piano; Fabian Rucker – alto saxophone, mixer; Bobby Previte – trap drums, percussion, autoharp, guitar, harmonica, arranger, conductor, producer)
There are three components to each journey. There’s getting ready for the journey—finding the desired destination, packing, and then booking transportation; there’s the journey itself—the transit; and finally, there is the arrival. Percussionist/composer Bobby Previte is familiar with all aspects of a journey and has turned his ideas into a musical trilogy. The first constituent of his tri-part series is Terminals Part I: Departures, which premiered as a live 2011 performance with the SO Percussion group plus five soloists. A subsequent recording was issued via Cantaloupe Music in 2014. Previte’s second installment is Rhapsody—subtitled Terminals Part II: In Transit—which debuted April 2017 at New College in Sarasota, Florida. Rhapsody is out now on the RareNoise imprint. Previte is already mapping out Terminals Part III: Arrivals, a work in progress. Rhapsody was released as CD, double LP and multiple download formats. This review refers to the CD configuration. Previte explains Rhapsody has common cause with current events as well as the general premise of travel. “I come from a family of immigrants,” Previte reveals and goes on to clarify, “There are people today, trying to escape far worse situations, being denied asylum.”
Previte put together a formidable acoustic sextet for Rhapsody. Previte’s ensemble comprises Wilco guitarist Nels Cline (who also heads the instrumental Nels Cline Singers); harpist Zeena Parkins (who previously worked with Cline, Björk, Fred Frith and John Zorn); vocalist Jen Shyu (her credits include Steve Coleman, Miles Okazaki, Previte, Mark Dresser and others); alto saxophonist Fabian Rucker (who also mixed Rhapsody and was featured on Departures); and pianist John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood. Medeski has played with Zorn, John Scofield and many more. Previte composed, arranged and conducted the nine original tracks and contributes trap drums, percussion, autoharp, guitar and harmonica. Rhapsody is noteworthy for two reasons. It marks the first time Previte wrote lyrics for one of his projects, using the point of view of a passenger sitting comfortably in an airplane. Previte also specifically chose to focus on strictly acoustic parameters, despite the fact Cline is more well-known for his electric guitar and effects; Parkins often employs analog synthesizers, samplers and oscillators; and Medeski is identified with Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, clavinet and other plugged-in keyboards. Of course, everyone in the band has done acoustic music in the past, but Previte’s approach forges a new and stimulating experience.
The ensemble opens with the seven-minute “Casting Off,” a theatrical chamber work highlighted by Shyu as she narrates about “Lifting off, the engines roar, casting off all that I don’t need anymore.” The musicians maintain a cycling riff which evokes minimalists such as Philip Glass or Steve Reich. Medeski builds a repeating motif which is later shared by Parkins, Shyu (on the Chinese two-stringed bowed erhu), and picked up by Rucker and Cline. The most robust and lengthy piece is the 11-minute “All the World,” which shifts, turns and veers even though there is a recurring theme accentuated by differing instruments which enter, exit and generate various tonalities. Rucker supplies some eagerly energetic sax soloing. Shyu —again taking on the role of the traveler—ruminates about what it is like to lift into the sky, akin to a child’s initial encounter with a Ferris wheel. The arrangement ebbs into a downcast section deepened by Rucker’s dimly-attired sax improvisation, which is later augmented by Previte’s bells and other percussive effects; scratching and screeching strings (probably guitar); and sweetened by Parkin’s sweeping harp. A related dramatic demeanor occurs during “The Lost,” where sharp, darkly-tinged piano, breathy sax and guitar arpeggios blend and balance.
During “When I Land” Shyu meditates on flying at night above a distant landscape, “Drifting in the dark, my life a question mark.” “When I Land” has a reflective and inquisitive impression with a folk-ish nature. At the opposite point is the muscular and optimistic jazz tune “The Timekeeper,” where Shyu sings about a ‘strange elation’ as the passenger realizes embarkation is closer and the shivering thrill of movement may be nearing its end. The album climaxes with three extended tracks. During “All Hands” the strings commence a discerning dialogue, which is later consumed by a riff-heavy passage which conjures acoustic heavy metal music. At the culmination of “All Hands” Cline contributes a stunning, Spanish-flavored guitar solo which is a must-hear. There is also exquisite pictorial characteristics which dip through “Last Stand/Final Approach,” where the assorted stringed instruments and the piano form a crosshatching musical conversation. Gradually the tone changes and grows louder. Previte introduces harmonica; Rucker’s sax becomes aggressive; the drums develop a rousing rhythmic charge; and then “Last Stand/Final Approach” slips into the concluding cut, “I Arrive,” where the passenger completes the journey. It will be fascinating to find out how Previte finishes his trilogy: where the story will unfold; which musicians are utilized; and in what way the subject matter and compositions related to ‘arrivals’ will come to life.
All the World
When I Land
Last Stand/Final Approach