available October 15, 2017 from Out and Gone Music
Red October is the new live album from Polyorchard, featuring the quartet of
Jeb Bishop – trombone
Laurent Estoppey – saxophones
Shawn Galvin – percussion
David Menestres – double bass
Recorded live in concert in the basement at Neptune’s Parlour (barely more than a week after the studio sessions that resulted in the previous album Color Theory in Black and White), the quartet spins ideas with the tensile strength and malicious beauty of a spider working alone in the dark. Polyorchard is a flexible fighting unit, expanding and contracting as needed to face the battle of the day. The Red October quartet features players who have been the foundations for several strains of Polyorchard since its inception in December of 2012.
Red October is available from Out and Gone Music as a limited edition cassette or download. polyorchard.bandcamp.com/album/red-october
Liner Notes by Emily Leon desertsuprematism.com
Within seconds of listening to Red October, I felt as though I was the steel ball in a pinball game – the subject being manipulated inside of a glass box. I’m not suggesting cheap entertainment, but rather implying that, like the steel ball, this album propels you into the playfield: targets, holes and saucers, spinners and rollovers, gates. The gate motif often represents an entrance and an exit, a passage to a new beginning, and there are clear moments of a sounding procession throughout this album. Red October produces infinite possibilities of sound, and can be heard and experienced in infinite ways. There is an energy that consumes your consciousness, traps you in your own mind, and releases you as a means to undergo a transformative experience.
Perhaps Gaston Bachelard’s question featured in The Poetics of Space applies here, “In this drama of intimate geometry, where should one live?”
Matthew Wutherich, writing in Dusted:
…the group displays a bold commitment to the practice, not the genre, of improvisation. The distinction is a subtle but crucial one.
Where many free improvisation performances can fall into a predictable dynamic pattern of peaks and valleys, Polyorchard crafts intricate forms with clear but idiosyncratic arcs. Each extempore arrangement is packed with surprise. Just when they seem to be building in intensity and volume, they might cut it off before it boils over, as they do in the middle of “Montana.” They also avoid the exploratory feeling-out stage that improvised settings often produce. At the opening of “Seen” Menestres throws down a challenge in the form of a tense, rapid-fire phrase, which in turn sets the tone for the entire piece.
Throughout these performances, dialogues quickly emerge within the turbulent flow then just as quickly dissipate and reform somewhere else. “Have” starts as a slow duo between bass and trombone on a melodic theme, but gradually disintegrates into particles of rough-hewn, pointillist sound, only to coalesce for a brief instant in a stomping groove. Even the intense conclusion of “Like” finds Bishop and Estoppey crafting tart melodic phrases around the scabrous interplay of Menestres and Galvin.
The group also resists the enormous gravity of the horns–bass–drums format, rejecting all easy solutions to spontaneous group from. There are no drones, no genre/historical references (at least explicitly), and no resorting to high-intensity, free-jazz style blow-outs. This lack of shortcuts makes for a prickly, armored music but also a robust one. Even the more subdued passages, such as as the near-dirges that open “Montana” or close “I Would,” burn with a special intensity. Though their interaction might at times echo some earlier group (I hear the volatile, near-vocal dynamics of Charles Mingus’ classic Candid quartet in the middle of “Like”), they still retain their own voice, the specturm of improvised traditions deeply internalized.
One key to the group’s sound is how they reject any hierarchy of instruments. Trombone, sax, bass, drums are, simply put, just devices for sound production, there to create a complex weave of interaction in which the traditional capabilities of the instruments are honored as well as extended. On the conclusion of “Like” the group creates a mix of proto-electronic textures, while on the opening of “To” they turn to vocal timbres and, in Bishop’s case, even some slow legato melodies. On the outro of “Montana” they take this even further, emitting all manner of wheezing, hissing and moaning in a secret, sublingual ritual.
It should be noted here that Red October contains, in Menestres’s own words, “no previously agreed upon material.” Since this performance was recorded, Polyorchard has expanded its repertoire to include performances of text scores and compositions for field recordings and improvising ensemble, a move that can only enrich their already extensive improvisational lexicon. Yet Menestres’s statement is still somewhat jaw-dropping. After a good two months of visiting and revisiting this record, new aspects emerge on every listen, the band’s ability to create spontaneous structure consistently fascinating, and more than a little befuddling.
In the two and a half years of Polyorchard’s existence the band has blazed a trail across the territories of modern music performing their own compositions (spontaneous or otherwise), collaborating with Merzbow, paying tribute to Sun Ra on his 100th arrival day, and performing Terry Riley’s In C on the 50th anniversary of its premier. Polyorchard is a flexible fighting unit morphing to fit the battle of the day in formations ranging from small scale trios to the sprawling madness of a double dectet. Polyorchard has shared bills with artists as diverse as Duane Pitre, thingNY, Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley duo, Michael Pisaro & Greg Stuart, Jon Mueller, and Half Japanese. Plans for 2015 include collaborating with Olivia Block, exploring the late work of John Coltrane, and further work with balloons.
Over one beautiful weekend in late September 2014 Polyorchard laid down it’s first studio recordings. Color Theory in Black and White represents two aspects of the trio personality. The first trio on the album is a string trio of Chris Eubank on cello, Dan Ruccia on viola, and David Menestres on bass. The back half of the album is occupied by the trio of Jeb Bishop on trombone, Laurent Estoppey on saxophones, and David Menestres on bass.
Color Theory in Black and White was recorded in glorious binaural sound by Dan Lilley and mastered by Andrew Weathers. Listen at maximum volume in front of your best speakers or get lost deep in the sound of your favorite headphones.
All music by Polyorchard ©2015
Binaural recording by Dan Lilley at The Store, Raleigh, NC September 27-28, 2014
Mastering by Andrew Weathers, Oakland, CA October 2014
Design by Lincoln Hancock
Liner notes by Emily Leon
Downloads & limited edition 2xCDr boxsets available at polyorchard.bandcamp.com
Chris Vitiello, writing in IndyWeek:
The revolving, motley assortment of classical, jazz and rock musicians have played practically every kind of music in every possible configuration in almost every Triangle venue, emerging as a vital and wonderfully vexing force of the area’s sonic fringes. But at last, and mere weeks before founder and sole constant David Menestres leaves North Carolina for New Mexico, Polyorchard have issued their first recording, Color Theory in Black and White. An impressive entry point into group improvisation, it arrives better now than never.
Polyorchard’s studio debut appears to pit strings against brass. On its “black,” first side, the trio of cellist Chris Eubank, violist Dan Ruccia and bassist Menestres deliver four tracks. (Ruccia is an occasional INDY contributor.) The second, “white” side contains six cuts with Jeb Bishop on trombone and Laurent Estoppey on saxophone, Menestres binding the two together. But this oppositional setup is a matter of presentation, not competition.
Still, it’s hard not to choose a team. Within passages that flow from microscopic sounds to lyrical swells and anxious moments that suggest Hitchcock soundtracks, the black trio offers plenty of classical toeholds. “Black 1,” the first and longest track on the album, shows Polyorchard’s penchant for establishing a motif but moving along before it goes stale. The action opens with a spidery crawl and builds full phrases from small scuttles. It develops until the sounds suggest the musicians working together to renovate a house, the audience left to listen from the basement. “Black 2” explores the percussive possibilities of the bodies and strings of the instruments. It’s simultaneously destructive and constructive, as though the group is playing while being bashed about by a windstorm.
The horns of the white trio offer fewer jazz echoes but instead breathe and burble with molten intensity. Their output feels more disparate and airborne, with the insect sounds of strings giving way to the honks and chirps of the birdlike horns. “White 1” echoes “Black 2” in its opening, fooling the ear into wondering if this is organized music at all, and not a field recording from some remote rain forest. The tracks take time in developing from a chatter of clipped, skittering sounds into declarative choruses of sustained notes and elaborated phrases. “White 4″doesn’t begin to cohere until around the six-minute mark, when it finds a bright melody and some momentum, suggesting something Stravinsky might have shoehorned into The Rite of Spring.
The album and track titles stem from an inexpensive, black-and-white edition of Josef Albers’ seminal 1963 treatise, Interaction of Color. Albers intended for the influential book to be an exhaustive teaching catalog of how color combinations can produce specific results to the human eye. In discussing harmony, he differentiated its visual and musical aspects. Albers described visual art as spatial and music as linear. Music was experienced as a single tone or set of tones moving “perhaps not in a straight line, but of necessity in a prescribed order and only in one direction—forward. Tones heard earlier fade, and those farther back disappear, vanish.”
With Color Theory in Black and White, Polyorchard shows how Albers’ definition of music is limited. Group improvisation requires a sustained attention not only to the present moment but to the music that preceded it as well as the many possible directions it could take. While some improvisers vie to get out in front of each other to show off their chops, the elements of Polyorchard get behind each other. This holistic surface never wavers, a byproduct of all those gigs during the last three years. The musicians are listeners first, players second.