Versatile musicians Charles Rumback
and Charles Gorzcynski
may hail from Chicago, poet Carl Sandburg's stormy, husky, brawling, city of the Big Shoulders," but they abide creatively in a far more fluid habitat: the ocean of sound. Rumback (drums, marimba, guitars) and Gorzcynski (saxophones, harmonium, synthesizers) are friends in their late 20s who are busy inventing yet another new wave of sonic adventure in a city long-steeped in both musical innovation and bedrock traditions of blues and jazz, rhythm-and-blues and the avant-garde.
The duo's latest recording, A Square White Lie (482 Music), is a kaleidoscopic flux of sounds that pools all kinds of ideas and influences into an organic wash, one that is often transcendental and meditative, occasionally blissed out, and, once in a while, a bit feveredlike a gorgeous sunset whose hues shift and overlap in suspended time as the sun melts from the sky. It's a record that slips easily into a playlist that might include one of Teo Macero's cut-and-splice electric sessions with Miles Davis, Brian Eno's Music for Airports, Pharoah Sanders's cosmic explorations, Aphex Twin or Colorlist's post-rock neighbors Tortoise, Isotope 217, Town and Country, or the Sea and Cake. The five instrumentals are completely improvised, recorded live over two straight days, directly onto tape for the warm, analog sound of 482's 180-gram vinyl release.
As Rumback explains, the concept was to do something entirely different from their debut, which bloomed out of collaborative associations with such local players as Matt Lux (Isotope 217, Iron and Wine), Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv), Ellen O'Hayer (Bright Eyes), Jason Ajemian (Chicago Underground Trio) and Jason Stein (Locksmith Isidore)as well as remixers like Prefuse 73 bassist Josh Abrams, all-star cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Gamial Trio.
Our first album started off as a drums and saxophone duo thing, and we quickly had all these other ideas and free studio time and engineers, friends coming and playing, and it became layers of music," he says. It was really cool. But after that whole process we felt like we didn't have a record of what we sound like live. We wanted this one to be straight up both of us, doing it live with no layers."
After recording, the musicians went back and edited the tapes, pulling out their favorite sequences and organizing the material into cohesive pieces, ranging from 4 to 19 minutes, each evoking distinct elements of modal jazz, ambient music and minimalism that bubble up naturally in the performance. When we're free-improvising, there's all these different waves that I come through," Rumback says. When Charles and I are playing night after night, first it's really easy and then it's really hard, because you feel like you've said a lot already and you don't want to repeat yourself."
Giving credit to producer Josh Eustis, Rumback takes a moment to emphazie the duo's priorities. We are just as much concerned with texture and space of the recording as we are with any of the musical elements such as rhythm, melody or harmony," he says. I think Josh deserves special mention because of his beautifully skilled approach to that side of the process."
The tracks range from the gentle, slowly lapping sustained notes of Monochrome" to the subcontinental feel of Constant Change," with its harmonium-and-hand-percussion dualities and airs of Buddhist mountaintop calm. Time Words" offers a questing, somewhat unsettled mood, in which the drift is challenged by rumbling drums and given benediction by a graceful, delicate saxophone solo. A Square White Lie," the album's centerpiece, moves gradually from the beatific to the cataclysmic, before evaporating into an echo of be-bop drums.
I've been interested in old Terry Riley recordings for years," says Gorzcynski, nodding toward the composer of such modern classics as In C" and A Rainbow in Curved Air". Especially the all night flight" records with the Phantom Band, where he used saxophones and keys in cascading tape loops. His sense of improvisation (and it absolutely was) was inspiring because he was improvising the full sonic space of the event, as well as responding to previous instances of his own playing rather than the instantaneous responses of group improvisation. It creates a longer process, very transparent because it happens slowly, but really engaging for me because every change needs to be so very deliberate, everything added happens over and over." Colorlist's improvised pieces being with small intervals so that anything new changes the harmony, but in a way that sounds like a new shade of what was already happening. Those shades change again with more layering. Steve Reich did the same thing but in a very controlled and predetermined way. Our take is more spontaneous but based on the same principles."
The duo's natural chemistry has its roots in an unlikely place. We met randomly at a call center we were working at," Rumback recalls. It was a telephone interviewing service for lots of different companies. We might be interviewing someone to be a garage door repairman or someone to work at PetSmart. It was a pretty terrible job." The two Charleses did not immediately form a band. Instead, they swapped records, sharing mutual enthusiasms and soaking up each other's tastes in minimalism, free-jazz, noise, hip-hop you name it. We started playing these drum and sax duets and eventually it evolved into Colorlist."
As his partner concludes, they have highly compatible synapses that make for plenty of spontaneous verve on the bandstand, in the moment. He pushes me towards unexpected split second decisions," Gorzcynski says, so he becomes just as responsible for the harmony as I am. It's like the motion and harmony is coming from some intuitive connection in the moment that I can't really put my finger on, every time we play it's like this, and it's why I love playing this music."