Dustin Laurenzi - Snaketime: The Music of Moondog (LP)
Chicago saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, a touring member of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver and one-third of the inventive Chicago improvising collective Twin Talk, first encountered the music of Moondog a decade ago, while studying at Indiana University. "Initially, I liked the quirkiness of the music and the lore surrounding him," he says. "I had always thought that there was potential for the music to be reimagined in a more improvised context, but it took a long time for that to actually happen," explains Laurenzi. In fact, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that he formed a versatile octet designed to interpret and expand on those sounds. "I started listening to more of his music and I became really obsessed with it, especially a lot of the rounds on his 1971 record Moondog 2. That music is really meticulous contrapuntally and rhythmically, but also super catchy and groovy." Several of the pieces featured on that octet's riveting debut Snaketime: The Music of Moondog, including "Nero's Expedition", "Lament I", "Bird's Lament", and "Down is Up" utilize rounds, or perpetual canons. Laurenzi assembled a dazzling group of Chicago improvisers for the group, and his inventive arrangements of the material created various paths for each musician to extrapolate on the source material, whether through the extended passage bass clarinetist Jason Stein takes on the opening track "Nero's Expedition" over the polyrhythmic groove meted out by percussionists Ryan Packard and Quin Kirchner and bassist Matt Ulery before the rest of the ensemble chimes in, or the way the leader's imploring, powerfully sobbing tenor solo cleaves the cycling melody and practically silences his bandmates before they gently reenter. "Fiesta Piano Solo" deftly expands on the original solo piano work, engaging each horn player to contribute to a buoyantly infectious round robin party, where each statement lifts and inspires the next. The album was recorded live at Chicago's Hungry Brain in January of 2018, but Laurenzi didn't expect to release the music until he listened back later. The ensemble -- which also includes guitarist Dave Miller, trumpeter Chad McCullough, and alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella -- was carefully assembled: a mixture of players Laurenzi had worked with or had desired to. There's an inescapably human, idiosyncratic vibe to the album, coursing with raw emotion and fragile beauty that both honors the distinctive spirit of Moondog and creates something utterly fresh at the same time. Edition of 500.