Gerald Cleaver

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by David R. Adler

Gerald Cleaver, a sought-after drummer in both straight-ahead and avant-garde circles, debuts as a leader with the highly adventuresome Adjust. The band is called Veil of Names, and its makeup is striking. Guitarist Ben Monder and violist Mat Maneri are paired for the first time; reedman Andrew Bishop completes the front line. Craig Taborn plays organ and keyboards, and bassist Reid Anderson is heard on both upright and electric (another first). Cleaver is on fire behind the drum kit, but he also proves himself an extraordinary composer on this wholly original outing. What catches the ear first is the Maneri/Monder sound, a captivating blend of wobbly microtonality and searing distortion. The clipped yet forceful declamations of the leadoff track, "Hover," make for an enticing prelude to a clamorous bout of free improvisation. Cleaver's thoughts are generally more in tempo, however: Witness the off-kilter, unpredictable grooves of "The Wheat and the Tares" and "Chinese Radio" and the foreboding, almost Zawinul-esque "Force of Habit." Monder's big feature arrives on "Way Truth Life," which, following an unaccompanied guitar setup, winds up through some very surprising meter and tempo changes. Monder blows clean but dizzyingly fast lines over the rhythmic maelstrom, and the tune ends with what literally sounds like a pulled plug. Later on, the bleak and ghostly "Sight" functions as an intro to the funky, densely packed finale, "Veil." The richly varied instrumentation -- at times you'll hear clarinet, fuzz guitar, and creaking viola all at once, with electric piano or organ underneath -- gives this music more sonic dimensions than one can even count. Repeated listens are recommended, and pleasure is assured.

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