The Vertrek Ensemble with Derek Bailey: Departures
Derek Bailey (guitar), Vadim Budman (guitar, cornet, reed cornet), Ron de Jong (percussion)
The Vertrek Ensemble with Eugene Chadbourne: Dim Sum, Dodgers and Dangerous Nights
Eugene Chadbourne (guitar, banjo, voice), Vadim Budman (guitar, cornet, reed cornet, wooden flute, harmonica), Ron de Jong (percussion)
It's daring enough for a little-known guitar/drums duo to release a record with one of the most innovative living guitarists, but to do so twice is downright foolhardy. Only the most confident or the thickest-skinned of axemen would invite comparison with both Bailey and Chadourne so openly (such comparisons, anyway, usually irritate the musician in question, either that or simply bore them).
Actually, the more intriguing comparison suggested by these releases is of Bailey with Chadbourne. The reason for this is that Budman and de Jong display rather respectful attitudes towards their guests, and there's no jostling to be heard. These sessions are very much the guests', with the Vertrek Ensemble providing an element of continuity between them.
Accordingly, the disc with Bailey is by far the more serious-minded of the two. For some reason there is only one trio track here, the remainder being given over to duets between Bailey and one of the Vertreks. However they hit upon the idea, it works well, giving Bailey an ever-changing set of challenges to keep him -- and us -- stimulated.
The guitarist himself must have been in a particularly abstract frame of mind for this session, no doubt inspired by his collaborators, who favour a very sparse, percussive music. There's evidence that de Jong has strong chops, but for the most part he's a maker of atmospheres and textures, or a punctuator -- happily reminiscent, in fact, of John Stevens. "The Steeples of His City Clanked and Sprang" is a high point here, with the percussionist employing what sounds like a home-made xylophone to accompany a Bailey improvisation which starts by stalking around a single chord and heads out from there.
Budman himself owes less of a debt to Bailey than to Chadbourne, their guest on the second CD. His connections with tonal playing are much closer to the surface. He does, however, play with considerable logic, something Chadbourne often (joyously) lacks but Bailey is very strong in. He shines on the Vertrek's duo spot on the Bailey disk.
The Chadbourne disk breaks things up differently from "Departures". Here are four (mostly very long) tracks: one a guitar duet, one a sentimental ballad, the others rambling post-country improvisations. The tenor -- as it has been with most of Chadbourne's recent work -- is unflinchingly angular, noisy and often rather grating. You either like that kind of pace or you don't, but if you do then there's plenty to enjoy here.
The guitar duet sees the two drawing sparks from each other in a very lumpy, rhythmic idiom which is rich with ideas which justify the length of the thing, something its structure (or lack of it) couldn't do. This is abrasive guitar duelling (the title is "I Challenge You To An Epiphone Duo") with a rather friendly, intimate kind of competitiveness about it, making it very likable.
The sentimental ballad -- "My Mother's Eyes" -- is altogether stranger. Of course, we're used to Dr Chadbourne's ambiguous deconstruction of this sort of thing, but if you're expecting simple-minded camping around, a sort of musical slumming with the inbred mountain cretins, you're in for a surprise. The piece contains some heartfelt, expressive guitar playing and candid (if characteristically off-key) singing. It's weirdly contextualised by the fact that Chadbourne dedicates it to his own mother, making the following correction to a comment about her in the concert programme:
It says she was a refugee from the Nazi death camps. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany, but not the death camp. I don't think there were refugees from the death camps.Which intro sheds a rather different light on what follows than the usual interpretation of Chadbourne as a cynical, detatched postmodernist. This music runs deep in his own aesthetic, and he takes it seriously in a way which can startle the supposedly high-brow avant fraternity.
Anyway, said fraternity will have no problems with the remaining two tracks. "If I Were A Bell" strips a c-list standard to its bare essentials and rattles around with it for six minutes before making a remarkable change of pace and spending the next half hour in an extremely abstract three-way jam. The Vertreks shift between instruments over its course, and this adds to an unexpected continuity with the AACM school of free music. It's like being told a long, rambling story without any real structure, but with plenty of incident along the way. "Death Lives Down In That Bayou" works similarly.
The music here is pure Chadbourne, and it's a tribute to Budman and de Jong that they work with him with such sensitivity. At times dramatic, even melodramatic, it's pure Southern Gothic, scary and funny and rather perverse. Both disks are well worth tracking down, and the arrival of Volatile Records is to be welcomed.