Welcome to David Fiuczynski’s microtonal jazz terrain: unfamiliar musical landscapes abound.
David Fiuczynski – Flam! Blam! Pan Asian Microjam! [TrackList follows] RareNoise RNR058, 47:02 [3/18/16] ****:
(David Fiuczynski – fretted and fretless guitar, piano (track 6), percussion (tracks 4, 7, 9); Helen Sherrah-Davies – violin (tracks 1-7); Yazhi Guo – suona (oboe) and Chinese percussion (tracks 1-7, 9); Utar Artun – microtonal keyboards (tracks 1-3, 5-7, 10), Rhodes electric piano (tracks 1, 10), synthesizer (track 10), piano (track 8); Justin Schornstein – fretless bass and effects; Alex ‘BisQuiT’ Bailey – drums, bells, percussion (all except track 9); Rudresh Mahanthappa – alto saxophone (track 8-10))
There’s outsider jazz. Then there’s the music of guitarist David ‘Fuze’ Fiuczynski. Most musicians play the notes normally considered part of jazz or other Western types of music. Fiuczynski uses microtones, and plays notes between the set intervals of Western music theory and its 12-tone chromatic scale. His microtonal universe can seem strange to unsuspecting listeners. It’s certainly unique and rare among jazz artists. He’s not alone in his approach; guitarist Eric Zidovec and saxophonists Joe Maneri and Sergio Merce are other examples, but the list of microtonal jazz manipulators is short. Consequently, Fiuczynski’s material is unconventional and could be off-putting to the uninitiated.
Fiuczynski’s latest project is the comically-titled Flam! Blam! Pan Asian Microjam! The ‘flam’ denotes hip-hop producer J Dilla’s inventive backbeat foundation known as “flammed,” which Fiuczynski integrates into his jazz arrangements. The ‘pan-Asian’ signifies specific motifs which spotlight elements from Japanese folk music, Indian Carnatic material, and other Indo-Asian influences. The ten tracks form a performance which comprises written text (the microtones) with improvisation, where the microtones are the dominant constituents. Thus, there are a series of ‘microjams.’ Fiuczynski utilizes a large ensemble to create his singular tunes, including violin, the Chinese suona (an oboe-like instrument), acoustic and electronic keyboards, bass, drums, effects, lots of percussion and guitar. Alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa guests on three numbers (Fiuczynski guested on Mahanthappa’s 2013 album Gamak). Flam! Blam! Pan Asian Microjam! can be purchased as a CD, a vinyl LP or as a digital download. This review discusses the CD configuration.
Fiuczynski’s opening seven songs are distinct, separate movements of a connected thematic construction which is dedicated to J Dilla, as well as to 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen was also an ornithologist who studied birds and interleaved birdsong transcriptions into his compositions. Fiuczynski employs field recordings of birds as the core for some idiosyncratic melodies during the seven tracks. Birds are also tapped for the titles of several cuts. Thus, the lead-in track “Loon-Y Tunes” includes the name of the common loon. “Loon-Y Tunes” is aptly termed. Accompanied by birdcalls, the six-minute piece incorporates Japanese-inspired components into jazz which teeters and wavers. Some people may mistakenly assume “Loon-Y Tunes” may be something stimulated by Bugs Bunny’s cartoon world. It’s not, but it has a similar stance: this is jazz deliberately meant to be independent and detached from the norm. The second track, “Dance of the UiraPuru,” gets its appellation from Brazilian uirapuru (also known as the musician wren). Asian music is a strong feature, highlighted by Helen Sherrah-Davies’ violin and Yazhi Guo’s suona. Violin is also prominent in the brief “Q&A Solitaire” (dubbed after the Black-faced Solitaire, a Latin American bird which fits into the thrush family). “Q&A Solitaire” balances Asian and Western percussion, bird noises, microtones and jazz. The uirapuru is repeated for the titles of two more works. The appropriately upbeat “Uira Happy Jam” is a jazz fusion effort akin to Return to Forever or the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Fiuczysnki’s liberal electric guitar is at the forefront, and Mahanthappa also interposes expressive saxophone soloing: it’s unfortunate this one fades out during Mahanthappa’s improvisation. “Organ Wren” (another name for the musician wren) has a transcontinental flavor due to a plethora of Asian-styled percussion and Mahanthappa’s exotically tinted, Asiatic-seasoned alto sax. The closing (and lengthiest) cut, “Loon-Ly Solitaire,” combines two birds in one number. Fiuczynski escalates into a jazz-rock vein, emphasized by his blues/rock fretless guitar riffing, while the rest of the group fuses into a tightly-ensconced alignment heightened by Mahanthappa’s incredible soloing, Utar Artun’s Rhodes electric piano (intensified by his microtonal notes), Justin Schornstein’s zooming electric fretless bass and Alex ‘BisQuiT’ Bailey’s rollicking drums.
J Dilla’s beats are quite noticeable during “Flam,” an enlivening composition where the ‘flammed’ beat comes and goes in an unorthodox course which provides a stop-start feel, as if different composed sections where grafted as one. The record’s most interesting mash-up of Asian-dominated portions and improvisational jazz is “Gagaku Chord Candy,” labeled after Japan’s ancient court music. Fiuczynski (on acoustic piano) and Guo (on the suona) harmonize beautifully, while less formalized contributions come from the roiling rhythm section. It may be difficult to step inside David Fiuczynski’s challenging, untraditional microtonal domain. But entering can be a refreshing and rarefied experience, and one worth exploring for those inclined toward nonconformist music.
TrackList: Loon-Y Tunes; Dance of the UiraPuru; Flam; Q&A Solitaire; Oiseaux JDilique; Gagaku Chord Candy; Waldstimmen; Uira Happy Jam; Organ Wren; Loon-Ly Solitaire.