Muffins, The - Bandwidth

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalog Number: Rune 161
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:36:00

From the first few notes, you know you're in for something out of the ordinary - unless avant jazz is your ordinary. But that doesn't suggest that The Muffins make music too weird to be enjoyed by no one but the super-eclectic, as their foundation is certainly jazz. But they aren't also plain bran or wheat -- they are a bit more esoteric than that -- maybe more like your cinnamon-apple or banana-nut.

Contained with in Bandwidth, their first release in 20 years, are elements of "big band" jazz ("Essay R"), but "big band" with a twist -- as if they traveled back in time to the 30s and brought a more modern, avant sensibility -- insensibility? -- back with them. Glenn Miller wouldn't have known what hit him when the Muffins broke into their most angular and ferocious material... In fact, when this particularly piece mellows a bit right at the end, I imagine a Mr. Miller not quiet sure if he wants to try playing again, stunned as I would imagine him to be, and maybe delighted as well.

Then again, the very next track, "Out Of The Boot, (and yes, we'll talk a little bit about what comes before) has a strong King Crimson feel to it -- dark, dissonant passages (bass), a howling something that I couldn't name but it is like the winds from hell. But there are other directions this goes into - light flute notes, for instance, that we might expect from Italian progressive rock bands - suggest that the mighty Crim are just a touchstone, excluding the possibility that it's all mere coincidence. But there is something sounds suspiciously like a quote from Red.

"East Of Diamond" is a delectable, lyrical piece - bright sax takes the lead - while something darker lurks beneath. And let me tell you, though it isn't quite smooth jazz (there's just enough edge to it), there's no reason this couldn't be played on the very same station. In a way, and this is no criticism, every jazz artist has a track of this nature -- such that it brings to mind a number of pieces (none of which I can name). Mostly melancholy, it takes on a darker, sinister cast for several moments, with sparse squeals from those very same saxes ... atmospheric percussion and bass leave the listener in a very strange state indeed. It's very edgy. There is some similarity between this and "Dear Mona" which precedes it.

The Muffins are: Thomas Frasier Scott on alto and soprano sax, flute, and clarinet; Dave Newhouse on piano, organ, baritone and tenor sax, bass clarinet, and flute; Billy Swann on bass (and guitar on two tracks) and Paul Sears on drums (and guitars on 5 tracks). They are aided by Doug Elliott on trombone for 4 tracks, and, on "East Of Diamond" by Amy Taylor on violin, Amy Cavanaugh cello, and Kristin Snyder on viola.

But what about all that comes before those tracks already mentioned? Well, the album opens with the jumpin' tune "Walking The Duck" - deep throated bass, tenor sax, and a tuba-like baritone sax, drums, and who knows what else. It's wicked - wicked fun and dangerous (wild berries). This is contrasted by "World Maps," which begins in a gentle manner with a strummed acoustic, but it gets very strident a minute and half in as it marches out of your speakers... It's War And Peace for your ears... It's funky, with a guitar phrase (either Billy Swann or Paul Sears) right out of the 70s - I think of the music for many a blaxploitation film or something from the era of 70s cop shows (Starsky And Hutch come to mind). It swings... it's...a travelogue across a globe of moods.

There are a couple of short pieces that follow, barely over a minute, the first of which is "Down From The Sun Tower," which never really has time to go anywhere, though what's happening is quite active. This melds into the chorus of saxes led "Impossible John." Each sax - and let me tell you, I love the sound of a sax - is warm, they are happy and content sounding, comfortable. Oh yes, and beautiful. It's a piece that is far too short.

"Military Road" lays down squiggles of sound (saxes again, clarinets probably, too), letting them loose to float and curls and twists into the air. It's somewhat ironic, the title, as there isn't anything really martial about it. Clarinets squeak and squeal, etching out intricately detailed lines.

Well, there's really something very nice to say about nearly every track; though I don't have bad things to say about "Sun Tower," I just wish it were longer and it went somewhere. But the rest of the album, 11 tracks worth of sonic wonder, is just fabulous. This CD is the only thing from The Muffins I've heard, so how it compares to their material of 20 years ago, I can't tell you...yet. But, I'll be certainly tempting my palette with their other varieties.

This is another disc that is having a hard time leaving my player, and I think it will with yours, too. So, go buy some Muffins and chow down on something scrumptious.

Walking The Duck (2:53) / World Maps (6:06) / Down From The Sun Tower (1:29) / Impossible John (1:53) / Military Road (3:14) / Dear Mona (3:12) / People In The Snow (5:51) / Essay R (5:53) / Out Of The Boot (7:00) / East Of Diamond (6:43) / Sam's Room (2:25) / 3 Pennies (4:14)

Thomas Frasier Scott - alto and soprano sax, flute, clarinet
Dave Newhouse - piano, organ, baritone and tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute
Billy Swann - Bass, guitar
Paul Sears - drums, guitar

Guest musicians:

Doug Elliot - trombone
Amy Taylor - violin
Amy Cavanaugh - cello
Kristin Snyder - viola

Manna/Mirage (1978)
Air Friction (ltd. ed.) (1979)
185 (1980/1981)
Chronometers (1993)
Open City (1994)
Love Letter, Vol. 1 (2001)
Bandwidth (2002)
Double Negative (2004)
Loveletter #2 (2005)

Genre: Canterbury

Origin US

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 637
Language: english


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