Dishearteningly, there is so much sterile improvised music these days. Any sense of ambiance is relegated to the margins, while the instruments, no matter how well-played and the ideas well-executed, become somehow environmentally impersonal. Not so with David Peck's Fulcrum, a solo effort that sounds like anything but while retaining an important sense of atmosphere and perspective.
The single hour and 20-minute piece is called "Leverage," and its narrative is as complex as the title is ambiguous. Instruments float past in a slow liquid procession of unfolding. It is difficult to cite them all, but bass clarinet, saxophone, what sounds like an English horn and bassoon are among them, as are various percussion instruments, including a wonderfully resonant gong. Peck has washed his vocabulary on each instrument clean of reference, so that the bass clarinet, just to cite an example, is about as far away from Eric Dolphy's classicalist or pointillist tendencies as can be desired.
Peck's approach is both melodic and not, just skirting any genre associations in favor of an approach at times nearly peaceful and at others whimsically raucous. Is that an accordion or melodica rendering those wild choppy harmonies? None of the instruments presents the entire narrative, as beneath it all, or perhaps better to say around and through it all, we are treated to continually sifting layers of processed sound. It is as if everything happening centerstage is in need of commentary from the chorus, and to penetrate to the heart of its gyrating jibber and babble is somehow to understand the music as a totality. As the long piece progresses, elements from the chorus emerge with stunning but understated clarity; carved bells and nearly percussive thrumming may be related to timbres in the foreground at any given moment, but then again, they may not, and the fun is found in their relationships. Any conventional musical elements can, at any moment can be centerstage or swallowed up by the continuous activity to either side of the stereo spectrum.
The best part, though, is that the process of making music is integral to the final product. Delicious nob-turning and button-pushing pervades, as if this wonderful creative process occurred at the moment of hearing. The process, the room, the homemade atmosphere of the whole, gives the music a live feel that is satisfying and disarming. This is improvised music for the intrepid, justifying both its own existence and Peck's label's name.
PEK Solo - Fulcrum
by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
PEK - Solo - Fulcrum (Evil Clown 9170; USA) This disc features PEK on tenor & bass saxes, clarinets, bassoon, tarota, accordion, daxophone, aquasonic and metals. Dave Peck is the longtime leader and founder of the Leap of Faith, an immensely prolific Boston-area institution with some hundred discs available. Although PEK has several offshoot projects like Turbulence & Metal Chaos, his solo offerings are pretty rare. Starting off with just a gong and slowly adding eerie metal percussion, PEK still evokes that Art Ensemble ritualistic vibe, adding some spacious reverb to the cymbals, gongs and drums. On occasion it is hard to tell which reed or double reed PEK is playing, Contra-alto clarinet or bassoon, hard to tell which. Mr. Peck does a good job of evoking those dark spirits, suspending time and putting his listeners into a trance. Instead of overdubbing, Mr. Peck seems to sample certain sounds (often percussive) and then loop them underneath his solos. He usually picks up one reed instrument at a time, occasionally sampling it as well. It often seems as if PEK is stretching out time as he explores drones and textures slowly manipulating them, their sound expanding, contracting and carefully twisted. At one point Mr. Peck is playing bass sax, the deepest tone of the sax family. It sounds as if we are being submerged in the depths of the sea, like being in a submarine or bathosphere. 75 minutes seems like a long time to be submerged but again, we are on a journey so… dive in my friend and please don’t drown.
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
PEK Solo - Fulcrum
“...The single hour and 20-minute piece is called 'Leverage,' and its narrative is as complex as the title is ambiguous. Instruments float past in a slow liquid procession of unfolding… Peck has washed his vocabulary on each instrument clean of reference, so that the bass clarinet, just to cite an example, is about as far away from Eric Dolphy's classicalist or pointillist tendencies as can be desired… Peck's approach is both melodic and not, just skirting any genre associations in favor of an approach at times nearly peaceful and at others whimsically raucous…”
- review by Marc Medwin (full text below)
“… It often seems as if PEK is stretching out time as he explores drones and textures slowly manipulating them, their sound expanding, contracting and carefully twisted. At one point Mr. Peck is playing bass sax, the deepest tone of the sax family. It sounds as if we are being submerged in the depths of the sea, like being in a submarine or bathosphere…”
- Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery (full text below)
Extracting the leader from a multitude of ensembles, David Peck's solo album has him performing on tenor saxophone, bass saxophone, clarinet, contraalto clarinet, bassoon, tarota, hand chimes, accordion, [d]ronin, wood, metal, aquasonic, daxophone, Atlantis gong, plus pre-recorded mixes adding a "soloist with tape" aspect to his complex and rich performance.
Evil Clown Headquarters, Waltham MA
5 March 2018
raffi photo tweaked by PEK
PEK - tenor & bass saxophones, clarinet & contraalto clarinet, bassoon, tarota, hand chimes, accordion, [d]ronin, wood, metal, aquasonic, daxophone, Atlantis gong, Ableton computer mix*
*samples from the Evil Clown archives and
newly recorded for this set at Evil Clown Headquarters
Composer and multi-instrumentalist, PEK, set his sights on something bigger with the Leap of Faith Orchestra's Supernovae. The previous incarnation of the LOFO expands from the fifteen musicians on The Expanding Universe (Evil Clown, 2016) to twenty-one players on this new outing. Another noteworthy element of this project is PEK's use of Frame Notation where the score is seen in written descriptions and straight-forward symbols within Duration Bars. The system provides the musicians with immediate understanding of their own parts and the higher-level arrangement of the music.
Supernovae consists of a single track composition running just under eighty minutes. The digital download includes a bonus track. Though the extended piece is not broken out by formal movements, there are clear delineations within the score. PEK's ensemble—not surprisingly—includes enough non-traditional and weird instruments to compete with a Dr. Seuss orchestra. Though they are not playing in a vacuum, that group of instruments dominates the first ten minutes before strings and reeds make themselves more clearly heard. Forty-five minutes in, we have the first case of prolonged melody, darker and more subdued than the overall tone of the first half.
Supernovae gives way to free improvisation overlaying the melody. Eventually the piece introduces a brilliant percussion passage before it reintroduces the non-traditional music elements, but here in a more refined manner. As with all of PEK's compositions, there is—behind the scenes—a painstaking amount of organization that is not always evident in the listening. That is part of the beauty of this album; the non-traditional approach to instrumentation and the lack of adherence to Western structure continue to make the various iterations of Leap of Faith consistently interesting. And interesting look at the written score can be viewed at http://www.evilclown.rocks/lofo-supernovae-score.html.
On Leap of Faith: "Alien yet familiar, bizarre yet completely fascinating. Expanding, contracting, erupting, settling down, always as one force..." - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
On Metal Chaos Ensemble: "... using unique strategies to yield densely active and eerily surreal music, an incredible excursion through experimental improvisation." - Squidco website staff
Liner Notes by PEK
Every once in a while there is a break in the Evil Clown schedule and I have a little time for a solo session. In the 90s, I did solo performances occasionally - which presented several challenges. I like to work in a long form with lots of instrument changes, so I came up with several tricks for rapidly changing horns while continuing the improvisation...
Recently, I have been using the Ableton software to create electronic mixes which we use in several of the bands as an accompaniment track. In performance, I ride the fader from off to very present, but most of the time more to the background. Raw samples are taken from the Evil Clown Catalog and also specially recorded at Evil Clown Headquarters with instruments drawn from the Evil Clown arsenal. I then use Adobe Audition to process the samples and finally Ableton to assemble a timeline and create a mix.
On my last solo album, Thulsa Doom (2017), I first used one of these mixes to accompany my solo - this is a bit more like the idea of 20th century classical composition tradition of Soloist with Tape, than the improvisation tradition of unaccompanied solo, but it neatly solves the problem of a long-form continuous solo performance with instrument changes. The big difference is the solo part is completely improvised...
This is my first solo effort that uses the full length of the CD as a single work, something which we do as a matter of course in Leap of Faith and many of the other Evil Clown Ensembles.