Tim Kuhl's website greets visitors with a set of simple sentences describing who he is: Drummer+Composer," followed by Bandleader, Sideman, Collaborator, Noise Maker, Rocker." Tim is succinct and up-front about describing himself, but the term that's most tellingaside from the obvious drummer+composer" partis Noise Maker." Noise" has negative connotations in most contexts, but within the realm of improvised music that Kuhl often likes to operate within, it's exactly what I would think he'd want to be known for. Music," at least as conventionally conceived, is simply too confining a term.
Last year when reviewing his prior effort King, composer" might have come to mind first. Kuhl has strove to make a name as a craftsman of carefully constructed, nuanced songs, not just as a drummer, and that record helped to establish him as a force in that regard. But Kuhl is the kind of musician who sees his career with many frontiers and no sooner had King hit the streets, he was back in the studio recording a free improv record he christened Doomsayer.
The headlong dive into free jazz might appear to be a huge change of direction from his prior two albums, and it a lot of ways, it is. He put together an entirely different ensemble for Doomsayer: Ben Gerstein (trombone), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), Frantz Loriot (viola), Jonathan Moritz (saxophones), and last year's Best of Mainstream and Modern Jazz" winner Michael Formanek (bass). On the other hand, Doomsayer is very much a part of the same man who made King, only with different facets of his art emphasized.
Comprised of eleven tracks of lengths long, medium and short, the songs are all named after colors. Kuhl alone starts the undertaking with Gray," a low-key 100 second solo performance that serves as an intro to some denser, wilder tracks that follow; the slow, staggered beat owes more to rock than it does to jazz signaling his intention to not stay constrained by avant-garde jazz alone, even if it might be his starting point most of the time. Gold" is the longest of the three extended pieces, a dialogue of extra sensory proportions. Kuhl's role on Gold" is more of a facilitator, setting the mood for the piece in very understated ways, creating gently rolling thunder, bumps and all-out storms, guiding the crew from ominous calm to calamitous release.
Red" is the most menacing track, where halfway through Goldberger takes charge with a grunge rock pugnacity and a brief display of effects pedals. Meanwhile, Gerstein blurts occasional traditional jazz statements that stand in stark contrast to harder toned attitude displayed by Kuhl and the guitarist. On White," Goldberger uses feedback to create an ambient wall of noise that broods in the background as Gerstein, Loriot and Moritz create a haze that gradually ebbs and flows like the ocean tides. The concluding track Black" (video below), is a Goldberger/Kuhl duet that underscores a serene side to the rock inclinations of both:
Formanek as sideman is not exactly like Formanek the leader, but he's equally as good in this role, as his well-earned reputation attests. He's got great rapport with Kuhl, finding and filling in all the spaces the drummer leaves for him, and does just as much to define the elusive, fluid tempo of each song. The first half of Royal," though, is his showcase, plucking out woody tones in much the same gait and cadence as Kuhl does for most of the album. The other four-stringed player, Loriot, engages in a duet with Kuhl ("Green") that is one of the high points of the whole album. Kuhl once again sets a tone, not with time, but with low timbres. Loriot's tense viola reacts to this, maintaining the tautness and even getting increasingly edgy without losing restraint.
I think you can get musicians of this caliber to create good music on the spot any day of the week. Where Doomsayer succeeds beyond that is the way Kuhl manages to take the 1960s improvised music sensibilities of Sunny Murray (another forward thinking jazz drummer, from another time) and advance it with just enough hints of the indie rock music from his own generation. Like the cutting edge performers of every prior generation, Kuhl strives to keep jazz current and vital by pasting on a little piece of contemporary music forms on it. Even when there is little or no structure planned in advance.
The Doomsayer CD releases tomorrow, but a digital download can be purchased now right here.
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