Curtis Hasselbring / The New Mellow Edwards

Big Choantza

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A second release for Curtis Hasselbring and the New Mellow Edwards has the band in a downtrodden state of affairs, laid-back by some standards, sullen by others. Yet there's a spark of hope and optimism among the gloomy threads of improvised music that weave in and out of consciousness. Not to be made out as utter despair and depression, it is merely the depth of trombonist Hasselbring and clarinetist Chris Speed's dulcet tones that identify this music on the darker spectrum of moodiness. Bassist Trevor Dunn adds further to the rather obsidian, oblique tonalities, while drummer John Hollenbeck does anything and everything imaginable to bring this music out of the catacombs, into the 9-to-5 world, but eventually settles for the nighttime visage the music ultimately demands. When you hear Speed's downhearted clarinet in funk cadence during "First Loser," leading to a floating blues, one has to feel their sense of melancholy. A tip-toe bassline on "Good Job" whispers nuances of danger lurking, but a melodica insert lifts the encouragement quotient. Not all is lost, for the two-minute circus stomp "Helkakelka, Helkakelka" is raucous and wild, stopped, then slowed in 5/4 New Orleans sine wave voodoo. The tango-like counterpoint of "Sacks on the Beach" is driven by jungle drums; a midtempo rocker "Large Detective" shoots distorted shards of tangential lines everywhere; and the spacy "Annoying Guy" features long tones that go onward into the stratosphere. There's some fine unison playing throughout from the always able Hasselbring, and it seems Speed has all the intention of breaking free from his doldrums, but his sound is ultimately dour on this date. The final track, "Backfat vs. Fumi," is ultimately pretty with an ostinato bass set up by Dunn, in waltz time whether swaying or rocking. Disturbingly charming, negatively reinforced while positively charged, Big Choantza is unrelenting in dwelling on expanding horizons, no matter the emotional content or reaction. For sure, it stands on its own as a unique new musical statement, driven by the sheer brilliance and curiosity of these great modern musicians.

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