Max Nagl

The Evil Garden

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The 11th release on the U.K. label November was their most stunning ever, both graphically as musically. Austrian saxophonist Max Nagl wanted to do a project with American writer/artist Edward Gorey. The latter died before recordings began, but The Evil Garden saw the light of day nonetheless. Nagl selected a handful of the poet's stories and wrote a few instrumental tunes inspired by some of his drawings. The perfection of this match is uncanny. Nagl's naïve, childlike melodies hide complex avant-garde jazz writing (in a way similar to Steve Lacy's song cycles like The Cry); Gorey's words reveal macabre stories wrapped in a detached, casual narrative. For this endeavor, the composer recruited longtime drummer Patrice Heral, keyboardist Josef Novotny, guitarist Noël Akchoté, and saxophonist Lol Coxhill, who also half-sings/half-narrates together with Julie Tippetts. Rarely has such charming music been so complex and dark. The little dances that are "Oxiborick" and "The Lavender Leotard" contrast with the very slow, atmospheric "The Iron Tonic" and "The Evil Garden." The latter is the most interesting piece of the set -- a simple melody is backed by stripped-down arrangements and incidental sounds. It seems Coxhill and Tippetts recorded their vocals separately, unaware of the other's take, and were instructed to guess how to fit the melody into the slow meter. The result is a nursery rhyme-like feel -- two children singing, following their own sense of rhythm -- backing lyrics like "A hissing swarm of hairy bugs/Has got the baby and its rugs./The nurse of whom they all were fond/Is sinking in the bubbling pond." Delightful, simply delightful. Gorey's texts and drawings grace the beautiful booklet. Strongly recommended.

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