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Reveiw of "Modern Times" - Pearl Django, Rob Nolan, Pete Krebs, Ron Peters

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  • David Stevenson
    Modern Times, Pearl Django, with Rob Nolan, et al. With the exit of Greg Ruby, the addition of new member David Lange, and with several guest artists making a
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2007
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      Modern Times, Pearl Django, with Rob Nolan, et al.

      With the exit of Greg Ruby, the addition of new member David Lange,
      and with several guest artists making a variety of contributions, the
      new Pearl Django album might seem, on the surface, an essentially
      disparate or transitional work, from a band undergoing unsettling
      changes. Dig deeper though, and one discovers a good deal more
      continuity than is first apparent. Greg Ruby's absence is well
      covered by Pete Krebs and Ron Peters, both lending strong rhythm
      support and even Greg appears here and there on the album. As for the
      new member? Well, yes and no: David Lange has officially joined the
      band, but he has long been an adjunct member of the band, playing
      accordian on every album since Mystery Pacific, back in 1998,
      handling the band's recording engineer duties, going all the way back
      to the debut album, and generally providing a sort of "fifth Beatle"
      role in relation to the band; well, now he is a full-fledged member
      and a valuable one, as it turns out. As for guest guitarists, Ron
      Peters playing is eerily reminiscent of the late great Dudley Hill.
      Rob Nolan, featured soloist on two pieces here, has had a long
      association with Pearl Django, going back to the very first
      Djangofest Northwest on Whidby Island. However, while there exists
      this chain of continuity in terms of associations and band personnel,
      I was initially struck with the sensation of stumbling upon some new
      dispensation of musical expression - a more modern sound and
      sensibility, and bearing the title "Modern Times", this seemed to be
      the announced intention of the band, as well. However, repeated
      listenings (and this is an album that definitely rewards repeated
      listenings) demostrates that the signature Pearl Django swing and
      pompe are still in abundance over the course of the entire album, and
      that Modern Times contains all the hallmarks of the best of Pearl
      Django music. Actually, what I initially heard as "modern", could
      more accurately be described as artful complexity. Careful attention
      to arrangement is apparent throughout, and the band exudes an utterly
      joyful musicality, made possible by every member acting as full
      participant and each one an accomplished soloist; a hard-won musical
      symbiosis is achieved on this album that would simply not have been
      possible in earlier incarnations of the band, a symbiosis in which
      intricately arranged sections, almost fugue-like in effect, and
      collaborative improvisation are saleint features of music that still
      swings as hard as it ever did on previous albums.
      Right from the start, Smile, the first number on the album, has that
      Dudley-like rhythmic snap that had me looking on the insert to see if
      the piece was some outtake from Paris Skies, or Avalon, until I
      realized that Pete Krebs is on rhythm and thoroughly catches that
      snap and momentum so strongly reminiscent of Dudley. The joy captured
      here, right at the outset, annouces that Pearl Django is at their
      peak. Then with Missoula Flood, there is this complexity of
      arrangement, a musical maturity that has been developing over the
      last few albums. Micheal sounds great, and the surprise for me is to
      hear what a great jazz musician David is - surely noted in Chasing
      Shadows, but substantially reinforced in this album (in many places).
      The interplay between violin and accordian makes for a very
      interesting listening experience. Then Chutes continues with the
      intricately arranged head - reminding me of those old Red Norvo,
      Mingus, Farlow small group arrangements. Rick's punchy bass lines
      provide a great backbone to this piece, a stand-out as ensemble
      playing - which is to say, symbiotic in nature, everyone contributing
      great stuff and yet no single player overshadowing others. Mulhollond
      Bounce really captures a very so California vibe - I used to live
      there - in which one realizes halfway through that, what seems to be
      a relaxing piece, is actually exuding something closer to serenity.
      Guitarist Neil Andersson has the uncanny ability, as soloist, to
      catch a different sort of feel on each tune - and that is something
      not many players can do - for it is much easier to play "one's style"
      on all tunes - maybe varying the improvisational aspects but
      retaining the basic style; whereas Neil's playing on this album is
      comprised of many contrasting feels and stylistic leanings. Saskia is
      more typically recognizable as one of Michael's tunes - very nice how
      all three soloists contribute to the head, beautifully accomplished.
      The phrasing of the guitar solo is a self-contained lesson on the
      effiecient, and even courageous, use of space; while David Lange's
      solo, on accordain, contains some fantastic interval leaps - what a
      great addition to the band he is. Robin Nolan's playing on Once in a
      While is so incredibly expressive - and surprising: sort a slow bop,
      almost mid-50's Farlow-esque feel and confidence about it, and yet
      Rob has his own thing as well (because I only have early Rob Nolan
      Trio albums - I was unprepared for this level of musicianship). Nolan
      brings out the best in Pearl Django's playing as well: Michael has
      never sounded more Grappelli-esque in his phrasing, and Neil's solo
      makes extremely artful use of double-stops and sinewy chord
      insinuations. The Conversation is a strong manouche-like composition
      by Rick, and the thing that really hits me is the arranging again,
      including great interplay between accordian and violin. The time
      invested in arranging has really paid dividends this time around.
      Great Neil Andersson solo on this tune, rhythmic variety is
      accentuated in the melodic line - and I could say the same of David's
      accordian solo, all of which makes this album very....musical.
      Listening to David Lange's accordian on September in the Rain is a
      thing of joy, and the chordal solo, supplied by guest guitarist Ron
      Peters is so very reminiscent of Dudley - even Ron's single-note
      lines played here have a Dudley-like punchy-ness and something of
      that round-edges-musical-logic quality. That light rhythm support is
      fantastic too - a little bit like Bucky. Sombre/Le Rubis is darkly
      expressive and then the clouds lift and tempo steps up. Again, tight
      and supple ensemble playing in evidence. Warm Valley - like Must
      Believe in Sping on the last album, Pearl Django includes a sweet and
      melancholy number and, man, is it ever nice to hear that contrast to
      the more swing-oriented and pompe tunes that preceded - a peaceful
      repose of sorts. L'Indifference finds us on gypsy-fied ground again.
      Listen to how the guitarist's improvisation is superimposed over the
      violin part, and they manage to pull it off so extremely well. Rob
      Nolan - what an intro! (Black and Blue) He has this affinity for
      blues - whose simplicity (deceptive simplicity) and eloquent phrasing
      say so much more than someone firing off a barage of notes. Like
      Neil, Rob Nolan seems to know how to hold back on the instrument, how
      to make his less say more when he wants to express it that way. Cheek
      to Cheek - brings the project full circle, finishing with the feel of
      swing that initialed the album. Nice rhythmic drive, and Micheal's
      light touch on violin too, and the jaunty, angular solo Neil
      provides...nothing short of Django-esque. Totally compelling,
      especially the round robin of soloist volley - again, as ensemble
      playing, the three gifted soloists over the impeccable swing rhythms -
      it just doesn't get any better than this. Not to be redundant, I
      greatly appreciate the variety of musical expression exhibited here -
      different dimensions of jazz and manouche, an array of musical
      colors...all these combine to make an album that one can listen to
      and enjoy for a long time and never tire of. Thanks again, Pearl
      Django!
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