Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cargo Cult and Their "Lonely House (Covers)" Release

When I think of classic chamber jazz, John Kirby, the MJQ, Giuffre's drumless trios, Duke Ellington with Billy Strayhorn and Oscar Pettiford, the Red Norvo Trios, especially the one with Mingus and Farlow. . .these groups spring immediately to mind. If I were to say that Cargo Cult probably belongs to this, my personal inner sanctum of what I consider the very best in this genre, some grouchbag will probably accuse me of hype. But guess what? Hype is only hype if you do not truly believe what you say. And that isn't true with me. These blogs reflect what I like (and sometimes what I don't like so much). There is nothing to be gained by my liking something. Of course it also follows that there's nothing to be gained by my panning something in a kind of Caesarian hissy fit. But of course that authoritative disdain can instill a sense of self-worth where it might be otherwise lacking, and may also appeal to those who would wish to dictate arrogantly what we are permitted to listen to and like. So I try not to do that a lot.

After having heard (and reviewed, here and elsewhere) virtually all of Cargo Cult's releases so far, I am a true believer. This new one, Lonely House (Covers) (CIMP 380) confirms what I've already suspected. That these three musicians have a rather amazing versatility and a thorough grasp of a myriad of styles and moods. We've heard Cargo Cult get outside, shred a little, swing, and now they do everything else you can think of. And they do it their own way.

Radio stations may think they shape tastes. And of course they do in their way. But in the end the most important developments are initiated outside the realm of radio. Trane, Ornette, Ayler built a ground swell for a new style of music without much in the way of radio play, especially at first.

And so Cargo Cult and this album attempt (I think successfully) to redefine what makes a standard standard today. Quick answer: they do not play all the usual done-to-death songs. And they aren't afraid to look outside of the ashpit ruins of Tin Pan Alley to find material that is just as worthwhile. Most importantly, they do the material in their very own way.

Who is Cargo Cult? It's Tomas Ulrich on cello, Rolf Sturm of guitar and Michael Bisio on the acoustic bass. They are a group in the best sense, each harnessing their palpably high-art talents to the interest of the group sound, the refreshingly conceived arrangement.

So to the music. They pick out some of the most ravishing of standard standards and work magic with them. Monk's "Let's Cool One," Porter's "Night and Day," Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses," Weill's "September Song" and "Lonely House," and invest them with a great deal of affection and respect. But then there are the more surprising selections too, like Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen" with Ulrich playing slide cello while Sturm plays some neat banjo. Then there is a little operatic reconstruction out of Donizetti with Tomas playing the principal role on cello, Stevie Wonder's ravishing "Cause We've Ended Now as Lovers," Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer". . . They make each song work for them, express their group sound, in ways that are both ingeneous and make for a beautiful listen.

Ulrich, perhaps more so than on any of their previous disks, steps forward with a dramatically exuberant style, molto expressivo. But Mr. Bisio and Mr. Sturm are indispensable and equally exceptional components to the music, as always.

A more detailed track-by-track rundown could follow here, but this is music that is best when administered by ear. I believe I can say without the least bit of hype that this is one of a handful of the most interesting, innovative and enjoyable small groups out there today. Covers must be heard more than once before it all sinks in. But it has an advantage to the average listener in that it is accessible for all the right reasons. Not because it panders. Because it communicates! Radio stations, take note. Check the CIMP link on this site for more info.

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