Dan Plonsey

Music of El Cerrito, Volume 8: Daniel Popsicle Live atYoshi's

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The delightful documentation of Dan Plonsey's work does more than just continue on this akwardly titled volume: although certainly not beyond criticism, the efforts of a large ensemble called Daniel Popsicle could be compared to big, overwhelmingly scented, and beautiful batches of roses. Of the possible "main" titles to this opus, Music of El Cerrito, Vol. 8 is most important. The indication of location seems all-important to the maestro, who argues in his liner notes that this sort of identification gives a clearer picture of the music than common genre titles such as jazz. He makes a good point, especially considering the historical use of such genre tags as a method of keeping musicians of different races apart -- skeptics can study the Appalachian music scene for confirmation of this accusation.

Nobody is divided here, as Daniel Popsicle is the type of event that brings musicians in a community together, an event which the liner notes hint happened in Plonsey's garage among other places. This community is the extended Bay Area avant-garde, free improvisation, and what-not community, so listeners that have followed this scene will notice many familiar names. A large ensemble working under a composer/conductor/mad scientist type such as Plonsey is not, of course, the place to hear lengthy, detailed extrapolations by such players, despite considerable effort to edit in totally improvised small group segments. Instead there is a shot of John Schott here and there, a dribble of John Shiurba, a minibrickette of Ben Goldberg, and, well, it would be in better taste not to make a pun about percussionist Mike Pukish. Daniel Popsicle has a more solid identity as an orchestra than as an individual showcase, surely an aim of such a venture but hardly the sign of having reached nirvana. Plonsey coaxes a superb performance out of the group for charts such as the two sections of "Wise King Taken by the Foolish One" -- indeed, this seems like a major piece of writing from him in which he combines the bravura of Anthony Braxton with his own melodic directions. These performances, however, continue to impress mostly with their massed sound, not the individual components. It comes as a surprise, then, to read the credits and realize the instrumental lineup is so unusual. Getting the individual colors to shine through when the threat of chaos looms so large is a dire problem with any performance of this nature. A typical result -- here as well as in many high-school stage band performances -- is that the rhythm section instruments play in too bouncy and busy a fashion to suit the restraint being attempted by the rest of the orchestra. The drummers should check out some Count Basie records for advice that can't be given as well in words. The editing of the live material to CD, utilizing many fades and quick cuts, doesn't particularly heighten the focus on the individual instrumentalists although it surprisingly does result in a sustained rather than choppy flow.