Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Transvalue: Book III - The '58 retractable hardtop

Another out of the blue - Transvalue are Chuck Britt (vocals) Michael Vlatkovich (trombone, composition) and David Crigger (drums, electronics) with an extensive cast of supporters on instruments and vocals. As the title implies, this is the third release, out on thank you records (disk site here).

And if you get this it is worth going to the site - because one centre of this album is the words: Britt is beat-influenced flamboyant wordsmith and reciter. These are complex dramatic amusing and evocative poems put to music, and delivered musically (not a spoken-word album). There are choruses and hooks to his lyrics, they are rich in detail metaphor and humanity, and drive the album forward. In many pieces, as a good performance poet, there are repeated elements of words (such as know in Not knowing, or Yes in For Alec from Pappy or structural elements such as the ten-year steps of The father or the memory returns of The new day) that offer pace and focus. Themes include relationships, politics, remembrance that are specific and universal.

But there is also the music created by Vlatkovich. This varies from relatively straightforward big-band jazz in Of dancers or The new day, a tango of Not knowing, or the nostalgic piano and alto of Frances' cheeks, in all of which there are extensive solos like the piano and then trumpet that plays while they dance to the flute and drum in The new day. In The father the music follows the lines of the song, while in Wars for the numb (02-21-91) there is a dense bed of percussive processing that suits the song and For Alec from Pappy has a similar but less dark soundscape. The music combines careful and sympathetic writing with the freedom to improvise.

There are two extended tracks - the ostensible title track is a lovely development of a father/son theme that traverses 50s doowop, faster group work, choruses and a final reflective coda: a wild ride in the hardtop indeed, Wedding song - which opens
'The horror/Only survivors made us/Eons of fear and voiceless estrangement/Eons of coercion, violation and destruction/No one knew' is the most complex lyrically - the poem appears to be an epithalmion which balances the despair and fear with the hope which is represented by love and family. The music reflects this complexity, a pastoral opening is undone by the lyrics and then includes operatic/chorale elements with additional voices and slipping through a variety of styles. I am not sure that it is 100% effective but it is absorbing.

And then, to end the album, comes a further surprise - pianist Hartman wrote the music for The kissing song, a gentle piece with a yearning cello line through that offers a final reflective passage, underscored by Britt's vocals - and I mean vocals. To this point he has been gruff spoken/recitative but here he sings with a mellow croonerish 50s tone that swings the album in a different direction, ending on a subtle note.

The three (old) geezers on the cover of this album, the cheesy colours and layout of it and the site, e lie an album of breadth, musicality and sophistication which is a surprise and delight.

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