Andy Bruce & The Rigidly Righteous
album that sounds quite fresh and captivating, featuring music that's intellectually
stimulating while being surprisingly accessible at the same time, The Midge
was for this writer a very nice surprise for many reasons, starting with
its cover: colourful and light, cartoon-like, the featured artwork by Richard
van der Ven reminded me of how dull and lifeless most CDs I happen to see
nowadays look (to me).
second source of surprise was for me the line-up: all names I don't think
I've ever heard before, an ensemble whose instrumentation was quite peculiar
indeed. Here they are: Andy Bruce, trombone, vocals; Hermine Deurloo, chromatic
harmonica, soprano saxophone; Frans Cornelissen; tuba; Martin Fondse, keyboards,
melodica, flute; Sander Hop, guitar; Alan Purves, drums, percussion.
first, some things about the music appearing on this CD that I happened
to read in the accompanying leaflet looked to me like the perfect recipe
for a potential disaster: a mixture of jazz, improvisation, and traditional
Scottish music, you say? I feared the worst, i.e., bagpipes a go-go supported
by fusion drums and bass. But the third surprise here was how successful
the final result really is.
was also confronted with the psychological obstacle of seeing the name
Robert Burns ('cause it was he who originally wrote three songs featured
here, arranged by Andy Bruce), the only thing I knew about him being his
being mentioned by Ian Anderson in the course of the chat preceding One
Brown Mouse, on the live Jethro Tull album, Bursting Out. I'm lucky Wikipedia
to The Midge told me that group leader Andy Bruce is a good composer: while
it's easy to see that Scottish popular music is the basis and inspiration
of this work, it's also true that one never hears unpleasant "jumps"
between the themes and their (elastic) development, which will have listeners
still being surprised after more than a few listening sessions. But, having
this album as my only starting point, I'd say Bruce is maybe even better
as an arranger: check the way he balances the different "weights" of
the sound sources; the skillful way he uses the timbre of the harmonica;
of a soprano sax which sometimes sounds as if it's made of wood, like a clarinet;
of a trombone played with a plunger, and so sounding at times quite similar
to a cornet; there's also a fine use of keyboards, though they are never
at the forefront: a grand piano; an electric piano that, from its response
to touch, to me sounds like a Fender Rhodes; an organ that to me sounds just
like an old Farfisa.
this would be meaningless without excellent musicians at one's disposal
(by the way: Bruce and Purves are Scots; the others, Dutch - a circumstance
that goes a long way in explaining the presence of stylistic traits that
will sound familiar to a trained ear). They're all good players, but here
I'd like to mention Frans Cornelissen and Sander Hop, precisely because
it's their work that, to me, sounds like the one more likely to go unnoticed:
the former is excellent both in his supporting "bass" role than
when soloing; while I think it's the latter (also credited on the cover
with "additional recordings", mix, and co-production) who can
be held responsible for those
"modern" sonic colours (such as the tuba sounding as it's being
filtered through a plug-in; some almost "ambient" whispers; and
high sounds that seem to come from the use of a Theremin) that in the end
make this album so different from what one maybe would expect it to sound.
opening title track is brief and lively, with many instrumental voices,
then it's a "marching band" tempo, the ensemble here featuring
harmonica, tuba, trombone, drums, and piano, the electric guitar being
its lazy, funny opening, The Bubblyjock has the trombone with plunger,
lotsa swing, the Farfisa, the soprano as clarinet, a fine tuba solo with
nice backing by piano and drums (listen to the snare), good "comping" from
by Bruce, the traditional The Four Marys is the only vocal track on the
album. A melody one can easily transpose for bagpipe, with fine arpeggio
guitar as backing, a noteworthy instrumental intermezzo by a
"Scottish-sounding" melodica. The musical box at the end is a nice
touch that doesn't sound obvious.
Honest Jacob is a Robert Burns composition arranged by Bruce. It has a
"swing" start, a theme played unison by harmonica and trombone,
a fine development, a good guitar solo with echo and wha-wha that for a moment
reminded me of Gary Green (!), with a nice backing by the Fender piano.
Jenobo starts as a "Renaissance-like" quartet. It sports a
"classic" (but not "predictable") development, and a
theme for soprano, tuba, and trombone, plus "Artic wind" and phased
cymbals. There's a tuba solo, with backing by the Fender, nice counterpoint
from the soprano, and a good performance from the guitar. Then it's the trombone/soprano
theme, then it's back to the "Renaissance-like"
by Robert Burns, Awa' Wi Yer Witchcraft has a folk melody one can easily
picture played on accordion or bagpipe. Here the lead instrument is the
harmonica, with unison by trombone. A nice surprise, there's an
"almost-Brazilian" atmosphere that appears quite naturally, with
a trombone solo that reminded me a bit of Bruce Fowler. Then it's back to
the theme, and stop.
The Parcel has a sad melody that to me sounded as not too far from certain
arias penned by Wayne Horvitz, circa The President's Miracle Mile. I almost
thought I was hearing a Theremin, there's an "African" flute
with lotsa echo, a melody played unison by harmonica and trombone. Also
percussion with reverb, tuba.
back to Robert Burns with the very fine Thou Hast Left Me Ever, Jamie.
It starts with arpeggio guitar with echo, backing by the Fender Rhodes,
then there's a theme by unison harmonica and trombone. It's a sad-sounding
song, with an appropriate harmonica solo with intelligent backing (I especially
liked the high-hat).
with plunger, tuba, soprano sax à la Lacy, "jazz" piano, drums,
all appear on Where Haggis Safely Graze. There's a very "cool" soprano,
and a skillful relationship between soprano and piano. Then it's a "...
and 1, 2, 3!", leading us to...
Hunt, the last track on the album: lively, with fine solos by harmonica,
trombone, Fender piano (with good backing from the drums), guitar, the
tuba playing a bass part.
by Sander Hop, Requiem For A Midge takes the album to its real close. There's
a pedal by winds and guitar, a descending phrase, guitar with echo, then
it's the tuba.
© Beppe Colli 2010
CloudsandClocks.net | Jan. 31, 2010