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The Skirl Records launch party began with an announcement: Trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and his wife had had a baby two nights prior. So the applause was already congratulatory as Hasselbring, rumpled and beaming, brought his New Mellow Edwards onstage for the first of five mini-sets. Opening with a romper impishly called “The Infinite Infiniteness of Infinity,” the band revealed its strengths forthwith: streamlined grooves, courtesy of drummer John Hollenbeck and bassist Trevor Dunn, and frontline tensions, by way of Hasselbring’s trombone and Chris Speed’s tenor saxophone. Speed was another proud father; Skirl is his baby, conceived and delivered in Brooklyn but baptized (circumcised?) on the Lower East Side. So after the Mellow Edwards set, which concluded with a sludgy “Double Negative,” he stayed on to play with the Clarinets, an all-clarinet trio who were engrossing if a bit geeky. Speed, Oscar Noriega, and Anthony Burr—standing in order of ascending height, as in a Cingular ad—fashioned a dissonant coherence out of altissimo feedback (via Noriega’s bass clarinet), didgeridoo drones (Burr’s contrabass), and austere multiphonics (Speed’s B-flat). The overtone interaction was unstable, unpredictable, and entrancing.
Only the last of those adjectives describes My Ears Are Bent, Ted Reichman’s band with Hollenbeck and guitarist Mary Halvorson. Reichman, on piano rather than accordion, struck a melodic low-fi vibe that Halvorson intensified. Hollenbeck kept supple time even when doubling on melodica for the band’s theme. That piece was as potent, in its self-effacing way, as the earlier distortions of TYFT, guitarist Hilmar Jensson’s band with saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo and drummer Jim Black. Skirl hasn’t released a TYFT record yet, but it will soon, along with Noriega’s Trio de Oscar, which closed the celebration, and Human Feel, Speed’s confab with D’Angelo, Black, and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. Baby steps? Hardly.