AMN Reviews: Surrealestate – Lacunae

Surrealestate: Lacunae (Acoustic Levitation)

Surrealestate is a Los Angeles-based improv collective that has been around in one form or another since 1977. In its current incarnation it includes the six musicians hear on its latest release, Lacunae, which provides a generous sample of group improvisations taken from two nights of performances recorded in 2009.

The most striking quality of this recording is the sheer variety of colors the group can summon from its ever-shifting constellation of instruments. In this regard, multi-instrumentalists Ken Luey on various winds and reeds and Charles Sharp on winds, percussion and small instruments are particularly crucial for defining the group’s overall sound. The ensemble is just as diverse in terms of its influences and backgrounds, its members having been active in jazz, western art music composition and performance, and Asian and Middle Eastern musics.

CD standouts include “Amalgam,” which begins with a lyrically floating melody on the flute that gives way to the sharper-edged sounds of David Martinelli’s cymbals and Jonathon Grasse’s electric guitar, which in turn bring the music back to the flute. “I Still Dream of Nana” is a spacious piece, emphasizing percussion and small instruments; by contrast, “When Cassavetes Hit Reagan” and “Foreign Hand Knot” put to the fore Bruce Friedman’s trumpet and Luey and Sharp on tenor and alto saxophones, respectively, to create densely interwoven polyphonies that at times approach the sound and feel of mid-’60s free jazz. “Full Body Scan” is a dirge-like track featuring the dark tones of Luey’s bass clarinet and Jeff Schwartz’s arco bass, which gradually cede the foreground to the brighter colors of electric guitar, drumkit, and clarinet.

In sum, this is a recording that fruitfully combines musicians who can cross stylistic borders and create an improvisational music that goes beyond genre.