Sunday, February 29, 2004

Yeah, Um, No

Comparing notes with John Fordham on Chris Speed's Yeah No band. He is rather more taken about it than I, except at the very end:

While sharing musical touchstones with such fellow pioneering countrymen as the Hub and the Vandermark 5, Speed lacks their sense of mischief. Free jazz meets eastern folk, Mingus rage and vintage prog-rock: it sounds very serious on paper but need it be quite so brow-beating in practice?

I don't know The Hub, but is it possible to imagine two groups more different than Yeah No and the Vandermark 5 and two saxophonists more different than the cerebral, slinky Speed and the rough-edged r'n'b ebulliance of Vandermark? (Of course it is, but please allow this rhetorical hyperbole) I wish he could have expanded on this a bit more, because I really can't see any meaningful connections. I'm going to see Vandermark soon, so I'll be watching out for any Speed-isms.

I do, however, agree on the brow-beating-ness. And I didn't even have the benefit of an on-top-of-his-game Jim Black to leaven the proceedings (perhaps because I saw them four days later into the tour?) although, as I mentioned, Cuong Vu was utterly fascinating inside the limited solo space he got. The music just has a dour and grey overall feel to it. I'm not ascribing a dour and grey personality to Speed, however: in Pachora, for example, the mood is much more upbeat and festive. Even in the equally avant-composition-oriented Claudia Quintet things are a bit more light-hearted. Jim Black's Alas No Axis is more rock-oriented and therefore less serious a group, and while I enjoyed seeing them (in 2003, but well before I started this blog), the high volume and unsubtle drumming (though Black himself seemed to be having a ball pounding out square rock beats) dampened my enjoyment of their slowly shifting textures (no, I don't have any Alas No Axis albums).