Brian Harnetty on Dust-to-Digital (CD Review)

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Rawhead & Bloody Bones

Brian Harnetty

Dust-to-Digital 2xCD DTD-50

 

For label Dust-to-Digital’s fiftieth release, they tap composer Brian Harnetty, an artist known for blending vintage spoken word and field recordings with his own music. Rawhead and Bloody Bones features 1940s accounts by young people of scary stories. The contrast between Harnetty’s music, which references both traditional Appalachian styles and contemporary folktronica, and the recounting of often grisly tales in children’s voices, is at times startling. But there’s a very effective haloing of the voices by the music that provides a layer of remove, reminding us that these are “ghost stories” in many senses of the word.

A second disc of instrumentals brings the essentials of Harnerty’s creations to the surface, consisting of gentle electronics, vibraphone and chimes, solo banjo and viola lines, and sustained chords from saxophone and trumpet. Two very different sides of the same coin, Rawhead and Bloody Bones is the better for the inclusion of both CDs.

Chris Dingman, “The Subliminal and the Sublime”

The Subliminal and the Sublime

Chris Dingman

Chris Dingman, vibraphone; Loren Stillman, alto saxophone; Fabian Almazan, piano; Ryan Ferreira, guitar; Linda Oh, bass; Justin Brown, drums

Excellent albums contain many magical moments, but there’s often one that is a clue that a particular recording will be a special experience for the listener. Just such a moment occurs early on Chris Dingman’s aptly named CD The Subliminal and the Sublime. After a few minutes of shimmering textures created on the vibraphone, saxophonist Loren Stillman enters with a crescendo into a held note that completely changes the demeanor of the proceedings. It is then that you know that this recording will not just be about its leader, but that it will be an ensemble affair, artfully arranged and indelibly well paced.

Dingman’s compositional style sits astride contemporary jazz and contemporary classical composition. Befitting a percussionist led endeavor, there are many moments that recall the minimalism and prolific polyrhythms of Steve Reich.  And while Stillman is a standout, frequently engaging in duets with the vibraphonist, everyone on the recording gets a turn to shine. Both Fabian Almazan and Ryan Ferreira are sensitive accompanists, but their solo spots, particularly the pianist’s dexterous endeavors, are memorable. Linda Oh and Justin Brown create a fulsome groove that propels the proceedings. Occasionally, one worries that Brown may overwhelm the vibes with his prolific use of crash cymbal paired with bass drum. But the sections containing his most energetic playing are well-timed and he provides a consistently engaging foil for his fellow percussionist Dingman.

Both of the miniatures on the album, “Tectonic Plates” and “Plea,” are particularly charming and chockfull of interesting harmonies. These are offset by much more extended tunes. One is hard-pressed to name a favorite, but the intricate architecture of the album’s longest cut, “The Pinnacles,” allows us to hear both Dingman the composer and the sextet at his disposal at the height of their current powers. One can only imagine that the way forward for them all will be even more promising.