From the first sounds on All Is Bright, But It Is Not Day, Jean Derome’s extremely prolonged maniacal laughter through a megaphone, it’s clear that there is rough terrain ahead. But for those who don’t mind the musical equivalent of off-roading, this disc contains some fine material, played by strong exponents of the avant-garde.
When Montréal-based musicians Derome, Tanguay were playing on West Coast of the US last year, they teamed up with guitarist Frith at his home base, Mills College, to produce some improvised pieces. In addition to the copious presence of live electronics, the tracks were subsequently given additional electronic treatments by engineer Miles Boisen. The results bring together a myriad of approaches to music-making. Much of the disc seems to be influenced by the sounds of post-War electronic music — Stockhausen, Varèse, Xenakis, etc. There are even jocular moments which resonate in the realm of psychedelia and Zappa’s Freakout, music also heavily influenced by the aforementioned electronic pioneers. This evocation of analog-era electronic music is perhaps most due to the skillful blend of live instrumentation and electronics, which gives the material a more organic sound than many digital efforts. Some of the pieces, especially the studiously Coleman-esque “Ornettology” (a pun on the Bird tune “Ornithology”), also show the influence of ’60s-era free jazz.
The players use a wide range of instruments, from guitars, synths, and saxes to the more exotic, such as game calls and Jew’s harp. Vocal yowls and screams are present in the texture as well. As with most improvisation, some moments seem more inspired than others, but the high caliber of the players involved and, undoubtably, the post-production phase have given this album a strong sense of formal design and musical continuity. It also has tons of personality and a liberal dose of humor — both qualities sorely needed in today’s somber musical landscape. If you hang in there, Frith and company may yet persuade your ears to become the musical equivalent of All Wheel Drive.