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The Order of Her Bones by Jeff Kaiser and Brad Dutz

Recently I was re-listening to Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s complex recording Mu on the French Actuel label, probably the most famous of all trumpet-percussion duets, and it (again) surprised me with the sheer breadth of its vision, the hearty variety of sonic textures, moods, and states it presents the listener. Of course, the trumpet is a fairly static instrument; despite the catalogue of smears, growls, and humanoid groans its best practitioners can elicit, it never gets much beyond its brassy basics and its lack of chordal possibilities (i.e. you can only play one note at a time). So for the duet format to succeed, the trumpeter has to find some way to deter the listener from the essential sameness hidden in his instrument by offering (as Cherry does on Mu) enough different layers to keep the listener guessing for the full hour he plays. Melodies must be stated and reformulated, other instruments must be implied, interaction must be high-wired and intense; in short, the trumpet must be explored in such depth that it is eventually only a part of a greater whole.

So that when trumpeter Jeff Kaiser opens up this quirky duet set with a bubbling, ascending figure that mumbles its way in and out of his finger-fluttered excitations, it gives the immediate impression that he is straining to hit that whole as soon as possible. But over the course of the restless musical meanderings that ensue, it proves to be an elusive, if not entirely unreachable, goal. Even in that first tune, "The White Haired Gentleman Approaches," Kaiser uses a whole bag of technical tricks - spit-smeared half-valves punctuated by sputtering vocal effects; straight snatches of the original six note theme, its pitch shifted up and down without resolve; Lester Bowie-like clownish asides, mooing and lowing and pseudo-signifying his way through the last minute and a half - and thus tries to expand the obvious escapes built into his instrument, to fashion a music therefore more refreshing and surprising. And yet, as certain as he appears twirling around the facile path of straight delivery, the contrived cleverness has a tendency to tire after long listening stretches.

This is ultimately too bad, as well, because the percussionist with whom he’s paired, Brad Dutz, deserves some extended study. Never satisfied to sit within a steady "beat," his approach is somewhat similar to Kaiser’s, in that he opens and closes each tune in two different places, sliding around hairpin turns every fifteen seconds or so along the way. And yet there is none of the gimmicky, look-ma-no-hands attention grabbing that plagues his partner’s playing - rather, he favors a thoughtful structure in which the wild turns are firmly grounded in thematic development, building one piece on the very logic of the last. This provides the album with its finest strength, a hard to place sense of continuity that keeps the hijinks within a tasteful framework. Witness the steady development of his marimba work on "Wounds and Contusions," the way "Finches and Wrens" builds from simple trills on xylophone to a wild cat-and-mouse, or the more sturdy beat-making built up in the middle of "It Becomes Translucent" - they are all fine examples of a talented percussionist shaking loose from the tyranny of simple timekeeping and taking on the much more complicated issue of texture.

Indeed, most of these twelve tracks are ultimately investigations of that musical characteristic, and as such they are bound to draw comparisons to Cherry and Blackwell’s similar experiment. One is intrigued by and longs for more inventions along the lines of "The Vigilant Conspiracy"s sample voice loops, but is consoled by the unique directions which Dutz rearranges his role as the drummer. He is often strongest in the sense that he completely avoids comparison to the inventions of Blackwell; and yet, Kaiser’s lack of similar expansiveness opens him up repeatedly to remembrances of Cherry, a losing battle if ever a trumpeter had to fight one.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jeff Kaiser and Brad Dutz
  • CD Title: The Order of Her Bones
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: pfMENTUM
  • Tracks: The White Haired Gentleman Approaches, Magnification Embrace, The Scrupulous Hand of Childhood, Wounds and Contusions, The Vigilant Conspiracy, The Order of Her Bones, Stories, Rumors..., Finches and Wrens, It Becomes Translucent, Bring Me Some Eggs, No Coffee? Nothing?, Faintly Appearing
  • Musicians: Jeff Kaiser (trumpet and flugelhorn), Brad Dutz (percussion)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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