Dan deChellis's Chamber Ensemble: With More than a Passing Interest
(Sachimay: No Number)
Dan deChellis (piano), Katt Hernandez (violin), Gary Fieldman (percussion), Anita deChellis (voice), James Coleman (theremin)
Dan deChellis and Philip Tomasic: As If To Remind Us
(Sachimay: No Number)
Dan deChellis (piano), Philip Tomasic (guitar)
DeChellis is one of many improvising musicians who feel close to the "new music" tradition despite the obvious absence of through-composition in his work. He does, however, organise his music somewhat in advance, using a variety of strategies which are less interesting than the results themselves.
"With More..." (don't be put off by the titles) is an album of quintet improvisations led by deChellis and all of medium-long duration (9-15 mins). The performers play it pretty straight, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was a contemporary classical disc except perhaps for Hernandez's violin, which has a ronsiny, unfinished sound.
Inevitably, these pieces are dominated by Anita deChellis's vocal performances, which are fortunately extremely robust, lively affairs. She enjoys improvvising with sounds, but she's quite capable of belting out a few big notes, which is sometimes just what this sort of thing calls for. She is, however, often willing to melt into the ensemble to give the others space to move.
Space is, indeed, one of the defining virtues of this music. It never feels crowded; deChellis, one way or another, has found a way to replicate the kind of layered, perforated sound which chamber groups get when playing, say, Boulez. This is tough to do in improvised music and credit is due both to him as the arranger and to the individual players.
Hernandez's tone is indeed a bit out of place, if the place is a classical ensemble. Of course it isn't, and she sounds great; a strong feature at the opening of track two reveaks a splendidly imaginative, singing style with enormous sensitivity to the effects of microtonal movements of pitch on what her fellow musicians are doing.
Hernandez and deChellis are, almost of necessity, the most note-oriented of these five. Anita deChellis is situated between them and the determinedly non-pitched world of Fieldman or the ever-gliding sounds of Coleman's theremmin.
Fieldman is the most conventionally "improv" of the lot, although it's hard to see how he could be otherwise; his contributions provide a reminder of this music's slightly bizarre hybrid state. Coleman swoops around this music with the kind of control and intelligence which isn't easy to attain on this hard-to-make-much-of instrument. Far from being a mere sound-effects guy, Coleman plays real music here.
The four pieces represented here have all the calm rapturousness of really5 good modernist vocal music. They are Romantic the way Schoenberg or Boulez is Romantic, and they are truly wonderful things. Whether composition or improvisation is the best way to achieve them will continue to be a vexed question, but deChellis adds to the mounting case for the latter's viability.
The music on "As If To Remind Us" isn't much like this. DeChellis still plays with his rather serious, legit phrasing, but duo partner Tomasic sounds nothing like a receitalist.
He's an explosive player (they both are), very dynamic and full of slightly twisted articulations. DeChellis is a hard, crisp pianist and Tomasic fizzes and pops around him with an almost mischievous lightness of touch. The contrast is immediately likeable; DeChellis's hammered notes against the sly indirection of th guitar.
Tomasic makes much use of the tremolo bar to create swooping or wavering glissandi. His overall approach is almost speech-like and certainly not the kind of scrabbly stuff one often hears from avant guitarists too lazy to develop an interesting technique. His partner plays the piano with intense concentration. His language is ne of clusters, rushing chromatic splashes and thumping dissonances along with calmer, more reflective stuff, but a more different player from Cecil Taylor, to whom all such players must by some unwritten law e compared, could hardly be wished for. Abandoning the sort of thematic development of which Taylor the a master, and untroubled by the harmonic underpinning of jazz, deChellis is following an entirely diferent route.
These discs, released on DeChellis's own Sachimay label, are efficiently but unglamorously packaged (laser-printed inserts, sticky labels on the CDs), but such releases do offer the opportunity to hear exactly what the musicians wanted, with no interference and, perhaps more importantly, no pressure, real or percieved, to deliver anything other than the music they wanted to play. Both are superb, better indeed than many similar things which will come out in more glamorous packages over then coming months. Inside these is some real substance.