Steve Beresford

Signals for Tea

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Oh, that wacky Mr. Beresford! Don't be misled by the album's subtitle, "His Piano and Orchestra"; the orchestra in question is essentially John Zorn's fine band Masada (with drummer Kenny Wollesen sitting in for Joey Baron), and what we have here -- largely due to the lyrics of Andrew Brenner -- is kind of a Noel Coward session for the avant-garde. Brenner's lyrics tend to deal with the small vicissitudes and minutiae of daily life in a witty and erudite manner. In "Unremarkable," for example, there is "A gob of phlegm, a tattered hem, unremarkable/A bit of dust, a smudge of rust, quite unremarkable." Often the words are tinged with melancholy, as in "Good Morning": "Lonely bathroom shaving/In between the echo tiles/A relationship with bottles cream and foam." But the catchiest, and funniest, number is "Let's Get Cynical"; where else would one find, riding along the crest of a bouncy, upbeat tune, a line such as "It's like living with ants in your anus"? All of these slightly tetched lyrics are sung by Beresford in a pleasant, almost conversational voice. Though clearly limited in terms of traditional vocal qualities, he makes up in good nature and enthusiasm what he lacks in technique. The members of Masada, of course, have technique to spare and perform their backup duties admirably, Zorn and Dave Douglas spicing up the proceedings with occasional screeches and wails. The group also gets to display its chops on two instrumental tracks, both of which are very successful. While generally enjoyable, a bit of sameness sets in after a while; the lyrics maintain interest, but the themes begin to blend into one another. The disc is worth hearing, however, if only to hear a side of the jazz avant-garde normally kept under wraps.

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