Sound Awakener is the nom de plume of Vietnamese pianist / soundcrafter Nhung Nguyen. September Traveler is a short, 30 minute sampler (so to speak) of her works from 2011 and 2012.
What we have here is…well, very interesting indeed! Taking a canvas of opaque, fuzzy and somewhat muddy (but not subsonic) drone-like material to act as a building block, Sound Awakener overlays contrasting sounds to bring the package to life. Against this mud-addled backdrop, bright piano “pings” and hammered strings are showcased and brought to vivid life. The occasional three note melody pops up here and there adding a sinister music box vibe to the proceedings. Think of juicing up the saturation level of a photograph…if the ambient drone is the background, everything else is color. Boost those colors and the result is something, while not exactly dark and oppressive…not exactly sunshine and lollypops either.
There are five works on this record, ranging from under 2 minutes to over 16. All of them seem to have an unfinished quality to them…maybe intentional, who knows? Most of them end abruptly, with a lightning quick fade out to silence. I’ll go ahead and posit the theory that Ms. Nguyen planned this to jolt the listener from one mind movie to the next. No spending time walking through that moist, dank Vietnamese jungle for you my friend…time to re-boot your brain and visit my little dark claustrophobic, black and white room where small unsavory things may or may not lurk in the corners…
Well, nice theory anyway. This is a good listen…and depending on the current chemical balance of your brain, the movies are infinite.
It´s got to cool down sometime, right? If it doesn´t rain, the sun inevitably goes down. So after the sunshiny reggae splash, the moonlit dub plotz.
The New Zion Trio, a tight, loose acoustic combo founded just a few years ago by keyboardist extraordinaire Jamie Saft, weds an unhurried, exacting jazz with soft Jamaican skank and just-suggested Jewish melodies. Following Fight Against Babylon, Chaliwa is the group´s second long-player, with Saft on piano and Fender Rhodes, Brad Jones replacing Larry Grenadier on upright bass and Craig Santiago on drums.
Chaliwa – another name for “chalice” – treats us to more than an hour´s worth of intimate, laidback interplay. Saft can shake stardust off the stars (“Negus”) and keep the bubble organ on slow boil (“Rasta Lion Dub”), or tinkle out a tune Nelson Riddle would just itch to arrange (“Pinkus”) and bring down serious from “Zion Heights” like the stride of a new prophet. Santiago and Jones Sly-and-Robbie with him the whole way through. Closed-eyed, each member stares deep into the soulfulness of the other and goes as slow and low as they can go. Special guest H.R. of Bad Brains chants it down in a mellow burn as Saft fuzzies up his Fender Rhodes.
Saft recently incorporated another new trio along with electric bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte. The New Standard´s self-titled debut on Rare Noise is a wholly unspectacular, spectacular session. Slips on nicely after spinning Chaliwa.