Graham Reynolds and Graham Reynolds & the Golden Arm Trio
The Difference Engine, and Duke! Three Portraits of Ellington (Innova)
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Feb. 11, 2011
Graham ReynoldsThe Difference Engine (Innova)
Graham Reynolds & the Golden Arm TrioDuke! Three Portraits of Ellington (Innova)
Premiered last February in a commission for Ballet Austin, The Difference Engine hums Graham Reynolds' hybrid classicism. A triple concerto, its five compact movements spotlight a trio of soloists – Leah Zeger (violin), Jonathan Dexter (cello), and Reynolds (piano) – plus an ensemble: five other violinists, two violas, bass, and a quartet of cellos including Dexter and Reynolds. Cinematic visions of Ennio Morricone begin "Ada," but it sweeps closed as if at the heart of an instrumental opera – stripped to its sweep and recede. The percussive tumble and saw of "Cam Stack & Crank Handle" drives the internal narrative forward, soloists dancing in the ensemble's string currents. This is the hit, Maytag agitation its hook. "Late at Night/The Astronomer" doubles as the ballad blossoming swanlike from dark hues. Only the closing title track starts to slumber scorelike – until its final minute and a half of ensemble flurry/fury leaves you breathless. Follow this with all five movements remixed by DJ Spooky, the Octopus Project, Grupo Fantasma's Adrian Quesada, and Golden Hornet Project composing partners Peter Stopschinski and Reynolds, and local sci-fi exotica never pulsed so smoothly into Krautrock and drum 'n' bass. Duke! Three Portraits of Ellington, then, constitutes Reynolds' Mr. Hyde side, a DIY takedown of jazz hallmark "Caravan" opening with a frenetic piano flourish ready-made for some klezmer band bingeing on its diet-pill stash. The brass urgency of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" demonstrates a punk rock moxie that's inverted on the piano and trombone of "Echoes of Harlem." Off Ellington's far-out Far East Suite, "Blue Pepper" lacks no spice, while standard "Cotton Tail" takes off on sax and trombone like the rabbit it is. Local jazz backbones John Mills, Thad Scott, and Paul Klemperer man the former section, and Freddie Mendoza, Wayne Myers, and Jerome Smith constitute the latter group. Duke! repeats twice more, once as string quartet abstractions (the creeping "Caravan Pizz") and finally (especially) as remixes. Quesada spins magical realism, Butcher Bear slices dimensions, and Gabriel Prokofiev – Sergei's grandson (!) – uncorks dramatic low tones on "Old Kings." Maestro, maestro!
(The Difference Engine)