The other week a friend and I went to a jazz club - the Lilypad in Cambridge, MA. We didn’t know who was playing there that night - we were mostly looking for a way to kill time after stuffing ourselves with Indian food - but it turned out to be pianist Burton Greene. I hadn’t heard of Greene - I’m not exactly an expert on jazz pianists, let alone knowing who the “Godfather of Free Jazz piano” was (who the Lily Pad website claimed Greene to be). Now, I would love to say that my friend and I walked into that jazz club and were blown away by Greene. Maybe it’d feel good to say that we were astute enough to appreciate an older man who had obviously established a serious stake in this niche corner of music, but when it comes down to it we’re pretty simple - earlier that day we were talking about the possibility of dressing up as Dale Gribble for Halloween - and ultimately we walked out after two Greene songs.
Greene improvised with a drummer and an upright bass player, and from the start it was pretty clear that my friend and I were not going to like this. It was atonal, arhythmic, aeverything. For the most part that was fine - my friend and I were here to listen to something new, something different - but the moment we threw our hands up in the air was when the bass player pulled out a literal chain and started whacking his bass with it. The Dale Gribble (or more accurately, the Hank Hill) in me says that, no matter how esteemed a musician you are, I’ll never enjoy the sound of a chain whacking a bass. To me, it sounds like fooling around more than anything else, which makes me mumble to the bass player, “That boy ain’t right…”
Which brings me to vocal/improv jazz band Rallidae, led by saxophonist Angela Morris. Maybe it’s interesting to listen to a jazz group that’s still figuring itself out and experimenting, but I can’t get past the hunch that most of what I’m hearing on Turned, And Was is just people fooling around. The first track, “Drumheller,” although just a one-minute intro, sounds like someone sucking their lips together most of the time. “Bird” sounds like a bunch of vocalists were in different rooms before they decided to splice the tracks together. “Now I Walk In Beauty” features many long “ahhhh”s that sound like the singers are getting a doctor’s checkup. “Sea Ice” sounds like someone rubbing their fingers around crystal glasses amidst random drumwork and mermaid-like chants.
That isn’t to say that there are some almost-promising moments on Turned, And Was. Morris’ singing on “Take My Hand Off The Wheel” isn’t half bad, and there’s a relaxed feel that’s almost convincing. Parts of the prominent vocals and quiet instrumentation on “Long Picture” are reminiscent of the first Yes album, but with a lot less groove. Meanwhile, the saxophone and other instrumentation (as well as the vocals) actually seemed to work together on “Still Breathing” rather than being spliced together, which made it by far the best track on the album. Then again, maybe I only liked it because it’s the track with the most prominent guitarwork.
But some things I just can’t get past, like the fly-like saxophone on “Awake” or the fact that not much happens at all on “Compass,” making me wonder if the listener should just download a white noise app. I’m glad that Rallidae taught me what rallidae are (they really do seem pretty cool), but I can’t help but think back to that chain-whacking bass player when I hear Turned, And Was.
2.5 / 10
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