Ugly Beauties is the first CD for the threesome of Lerner (piano), Brubeck (cello) and Fraser (drums). Difficult to place this music in a context without resorting to typical definitions. There is a lot of improvisation mixed with carefully trimmed material; there aren’t surpluses of extended techniques, although the musicians do explore more peripheral regions of the instruments when the time is right. Definitely it’s not something linked to reductionism, for the interplay mostly generates rather dense textural interconnections and clear phrases that, even when a rarefaction of events prevails, glow as luminous stars in a summer sky. Ultimately, what’s this record like?
The answer is “nothing that I can call to mind at this instant”. The trio is nimble and precise in the exposition, the playing revealing a degree of contrapuntal poetry — atonal romanticism, if you will — quite frequently, letting us catch glimpses of untainted ability that never figures as the motivation for germ-free exercises. The improvisations may appear nonchalant in their manifestation but consequential as far as technical grounding and plausibility of creative choices are concerned. A concession is made to a couple of stylish digressions, and there’s a swinging interlude in Harold Lloyd that sincerely was better left out. Fortunately, these are rare occurrences: for the large part, the quality of the instrumental interaction is so rewarding — just check the gorgeous Ding An Sich — that one’s immediately pushed to listen to it again, in order to comprehend the actual reasons behind a work that doesn’t strike that hard, yet digs deep enough to warrant a laudatory mention. A gracious treat to the ears, full of great tones and distinctive acoustic perspectives, in spite of the impermanence of a proper characterization in our memory.
E’ ciò che emerge dalla poetica evidentemente disturbata e “dadaista” (per non dire parafisica) di Mankind (Ice Machine), vale a dire un incredibile duo femminile che sa muoversi con estrema disinvoltura tra “sospiri ritmici post-wyattiani” (Mile End Throat Singers), elettronica schizzata (Todo que tengo) e psyco-minimalismo à la Comelade (The Anti-Rules).
Ignaz Schick e Martin Tétreault (Live • 33 • 45 • 78) si presenta in un contesto ancora più radicale: quattordici tracce di radicalismo estremo dove i due musicisti si dividono non solo i canali (quello di sinistra Ignaz, a destra Martin) ma anche i marchingegni elettronici.
Nous Perçons Les Oreilles (cioè Jean Derome e Joane Hétu) con Shaman ne rappresentano - invece - il contraltare acustico attraverso dodici tracce inesorabilmente segnate dal trionfo del fiatismo improvvisativo (sax, flauti e oggetti vari e la voce stessa).
Dal canto loro Marilyn Lerner, Matt Brubeck e Nick Fraser con Ugly Beauties, pur continuando a muoversi nel campo della free-improvvisation, ci propongono patterns più delineati soprattutto con il “lirismo slabbrato” di Oubliette che, grazie all’ottimo violoncello di Matt si spinge nei pressi di certo camerismo contemporane, così come nell’intensa Figure lisse dove l’interplay “piano/violoncello” sostenuto dalla soffusa batteria di Fraser è davvero notevole.
Pianist Marilyn Lerner is the best-known member of this trio, but drummer Nick Fraser and cellist Matt Brubeck also have substantial, impressive resumés that span a wide range of styles. Lerner has made a career of jumping nimbly between klezmer, jazz, improv and modern classical music, all while balancing a flair for experimentation with a love of melody, which should give you some idea of where Ugly Beauties fall on the musical spectrum. There’s a mixture of group improvisations and individual compositions by all three members. Although Lerner makes the greatest contribution, the album is more about the interplay between the musicians and their effortless improvising. They’re all creative players, and at moments they whip up such a storm of strange textures and tones that you forget you’re listening to just three acoustic instruments. Happily, those experimental tendencies are offset by strong compositions and melodies, so they never descend into the tuneless racket some associate with improvised music.
A quick perusal of Canadian pianist Marilyn Lerner’s website presents a musician whose projects are both typically and atypically diverse. Usually range demonstrates itself in working with a large pool of other musicians; Lerner certainly has that, whether it is with the long-standing Queen Mab to the two trios under discussion here. But she also cuts a wide swathe stylistically. Her website discography is split amongst Improvisation, Jazz, Classical, Jewish Music and Audio Art. None of these are affectations; her playing in any context is sincere and persuasive.
The trio Ugly Beauties is obviously a Monk tribute band, right? Well, yes and no. When this reviewer saw the band at last summer’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival, they did play a couple of his pieces. But for their eponymous debut recording, there are none, the music coming from the pen of each member or as duo or trio collaborations. And even Monk would be somewhat taken aback at the European-style openness of the playing though he would appreciate the brevity of the 15 tracks (55 minutes in total, with only one tune hefty at nine minutes). Fellow Canadians Matt Brubeck (cello) and Nick Fraser (drums) are the other two sides of the equilateral triangle and both have a breadth to their resumés that equals Lerner’s. Thus Ugly Beauties may be a jazz record but one that is quite brash in revealing the layers of other musics integral to jazz’ vitality. The spirit of Monk is far better served by a group that uses his individuality as inspiration rather than retreads his music for the 1000th time, though Ugly Beauties probably would do it better than most.
Coupure de presse
Marilyn Lerner (piano), Nick Fraser (drums) and Matt Brubeck (cello). Fraser moved from Ottawa to Toronto in 1996 and developped himself into a very busy and active musician who has played with a long list of musicians. Brubeck is a performer specialized in improvisation on the cello. So most of his work is within field of jazz and improvisation. However he played also for many years with Waits, plus Dixie Chicks and Sheryl Crow. Lerner is a reputed pianist and improvisor of worldwide fame, working in the worlds of jazz, improvisation, klezmer and 20th century classical music. Besides she composes for film, theatre, radio and television. They recorded their first one in may 2008 in a Toronto studio. It is made up of collective improvisations plus compositions by all three musicians. Ugly Beauties makes you forget the differences and boundaries between jazz, contemporary classical music and improvisation. These are are very virtuous musicians who demonstrate their talent in a very coherent way with engaging interplay. The pieces focus on different musical aspects. This way the trio shows many faces. The opening track Windsor is one of the most odd grooving pieces I have ever heard. Oubliette comes from another planet, and is a very lyric jazz improvisation. Harold Lloyd plays with rhythm and switches from modern classical to jazz and backwards. Other pieces are very free improvisations, leaving jazz idiom, etc behind. So their explorations go in many directions, implying that there is a lot to discover on this one.