Digital Primitives – Hum Crackle & Pop – Hopscotch HOP 42, 55:29 ***1/2:
(Cooper-Moore – vocals, banjo, twinger, diddley bow, mouth bow, flute, fife; Assif Tsahar – tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Chad Taylor – drums, mbira, percussion)
Free jazz has an unfavorable reputation among some music listeners. Sometimes the music can be perceived as being unstructured, too unrestrained or lacking harmony or melody. On the other hand, there are the improvisational explorers calling themselves the Digital Primitives. The trio – which consists of multi-instrumentalist Cooper-Moore, clarinetist/saxophonist Assif Tsahar and percussionist Chad Taylor – furnishes structure to unrestricted jazz while maintaining a firm and rooted foundation that incorporates American and African music elements, including jazz, pop, blues and more.
Hum Crackle & Pop is the threesome’s second effort and it’s fair to say this ten-track outing is as likely to find an audience outside of typical jazz circles as inside it. The reason is simple: while the music is based in jazz, the way the artists mix, match and meld various ingredients gives this album a receptive feel that neo-funk, alternative rock and jam-band fans, just to name a few, can get behind.
Cooper-Moore may be the most renowned trio member, although everyone involved has a lengthy biography. Cooper-Moore has worked as a pianist on the fringes of modern jazz with a pedigree that can be traced back to the 1970s New York City loft scene. Tsahar’s résumé includes work with William Parker, Rashied Ali and others. And Chad Taylor has been an important part of the Chicago and New York City jazz environments for two decades, with extensive credits on stage and on record.
The first and most observable item people will notice is Cooper-Moore’s change of instruments. While he is best known for his keyboard talents, here Cooper-Moore dispenses with piano to carve out a new arena of creation with homemade or out of the norm auditory tools such as flute, fife, mouth bow, the single-string diddley bow, effects-laden banjo and other accouterments. Its often difficult to pick out what is being used and how, especially because of overdubbing, amplification and postproduction schemes.
The idea of being unimpeded while remaining orderly is felt on most cuts, but particularly so on "Love Truth," where Cooper-Moore utilizes his hand-made twinger for a raw and distorted electric guitar intonation akin to Sandy Bull’s fantasias. Tsahar fashions an unbound but soulful blues-styled sax solo highlighted by his higher-register tenor squeaks. Meanwhile, Taylor establishes an excavating back beat that grounds the proceedings.
The trio posits a similar approach on the swamp-blues abstraction, "Hum," which once again emphasizes Cooper-Moore’s amped-up banjo, this time deepened by a rural slide-guitar earthiness that hangs beneath Tsahar’s soaring tenor that reaches for the tops of branches and on to the azure sky. Southern vibrations become even more enveloped and coarser during the chugging "No Holiday," which swerves over into North Mississippi Hill Country terrain. Tsahar’s low-to-the-gut tenor tone and Cooper-Moore’s scratchy, one-chord diddley bow both provide an unpainted and unpolished pungency.
Northern inclinations, conversely, are conspicuous on "For Fred Anderson," dedicated to the Chicago jazz elder and is influenced by an independent-minded Windy City jazz perspective. The drums/horn duet starts with Taylor’s unassuming, rumbling percussion followed by Tsahar’s poignant tenor sax. Together the two musicians create an unexpectedly beautiful homage. Another example of northern – and east coast – inspiration is "The People," which evokes The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron with its mixture of politicized spoken word incantation juxtaposed against driving, funky syncopation, breathy flute and murmuring sax.
The album’s most audacious innovation is "Somewhere Over…," an unsettling and bent rendition of the classic pop hit "Over the Rainbow." Cooper-Moore generates a ghostly expression as he saws and plucks on his diddley bow, while Tsahar flows gently through alterations on the famous theme and Taylor lightly shuffles his brushes on his drum kit. The trio enters anxious territory once more on "Herenowhere," where Cooper-Moore manufactures eerie undertones on his diddley bow, while Tsahar climbs above with his ever-shifting sax solo endeavors and Taylor layers groove-stippled and chaotic rhythms. "Herenowhere" is the closest Digital Primitives get to misplacing their focus since the long jaunt does not have as strong a narrative impulse as other tracks.
By most accounts, if a band travels to the outside edge as Digital Primitives have done with Hum Crackle & Pop, there are bound to be listeners who either do not want to go along for the rugged ride or might arrive at places they did not expect to chance upon. But that sense of unforeseen experiences is precisely why this hour-long walkabout – to borrow the group’s own phrase – is a journey that encompasses nonconformity and quite probably unanticipated reaction.
2. Crackle & Pop
3. Love Truth
4. The People
6. Somewhere Over…
7. No Holiday
9. For Fred Anderson
— Doug Simpson