The Dwindlers – Allegories
CD: #has002 Time: 29:15
Limited Edition (50 copies per edition) on-demand published with illustrated booklet, poetry & credits. Review copy is from First Edition.
Band Website: http://thedwindlers.com/
Member websites: http://www.michelleseaman.net/ and http://www.benjamindauer.net/
Heart and Soul label: Allegories
Previous Album on FeedbackLoop label: Dreams
Tracks: 1) The Pelican and The Girl; 2) Monkey; 3) How The Ostrich Became a Girl and Her Bicycle; 4) Pickering’s Hyla; 5) Widow, Daddy, and the Wolf; 6) Peacock and the Kitty; 7) Dolphin
Spoken word recordings have existed since the advent of wax and foil cylinder recorders. In the 1920s as Jazz was developing as a musical genre, poets were exploring differing rhythms and styles in their works, breaking away from more traditional forms of meter and rhyme. These were the explorations of E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Jazz Poet Langston Hughes and others. Syncopated rhythms, phrases repeated, and with some poets, the rejection of traditional conventions of punctuation and manuscript.
The Dwindlers are poet Michelle Seaman and bassist composer Benjamin Dauer. Their collaboration started in 2002 in Chicago and they now create their work in the southeastern US. Their first album was the digitally released “Dreams” on the FeedbackLoop Label #FbL 008.
Allegories combines instrumental Jazz with poetry and includes printed poems (of tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7) with illustrations by Seaman and instrumentation (I assume) by Dauer. It’s a very interesting and challenging album and I find the approach to be quite refreshing! It is a relatively short recording, spanning between a long EP and a full-length CD. Subjects relate to fauna, instincts, desire, observations, phobias and inner monologues (without being self-indulgent). The printed poems appear to be a framework for the apparently improvised recorded performances (might there be further improvisations during a live performance?).
As Jazz music is about listening, sharing, improvising, and responding, poetry can be used as another instrument or voice in an ensemble for counterpoint or support. Beat Generation writers expanded on this, like Jack Kerouac who was sometimes accompanied with improvised music during poetry readings (composer David Amram was known to sit-in and jam piano or bongos during readings). Jazz and Jazz Poetry has also been about activism and in the 1970s Gil Scott-Heron emerged (being influenced by Hughes) as a powerful voice in topical and confrontational spoken-word Soul, Jazz & Blues. Scott-Heron (also a rap music pioneer) greatly influenced later hip-hop groups like Public Enemy.
Other artists have continued to explore the spoken-word with a variety of music and multi-media artists influences: Jim Morrison and The Doors (described as “electric poets”), Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Harold Budd (as on his 1991 album By The Dawn’s Early Light), and more recently the 2011 collaboration of Brian Eno and poet Rick Holland on their album Drums Between The Bells, and the growling reflections of Leonard Cohen on his 2012 album Old Ideas.
The voices of Allegories are sultry with occasional interplay of the technically descriptive. There are changing points of view and perspectives—seeing through another’s eyes (not necessarily human). The way the words are phrased against the music; they sometimes transform into layered double-entendres. The often-hypnotic and stark instrumentation punctuates the spaces between the words with a foundation of acoustic bass, layered electronics and percussion, adding to the tension and release.
The Pelican and the Girl starts with a shimmering veil and then plays between female and male voices and further heightens an implied sexual tension as descriptions shift from bird to woman and back. There are points where the words lure one into an imagined scene only to be returned to a stark lesson on natural history. The drums and bass during Monkey are reminiscent of Morello & Wright’s vibe on Take Five (from the album Time Out) and voice, although monotone; is similar to the interplay of Desmond and Brubeck. Pickering’s Hyla is an instrumental break and sounds akin to a forest at the vernal pools at dusk. The second half of the album is more layered, electronic and ambient after a sensuous acoustic “theme and response” bass introduction to Widow, Daddy and the Wolf. Peacock and the Kitty and Dolphin gently pulse with Seaman’s voice stroking fur, feather and flowing through water.
Allegories is a provocative and engaging album of poetry—vivid and shifting with very musical, alluring and technical Jazz counterpoint. The recording has a welcomed softness that does not compromise the clarity. It would certainly be suitable as background music (and would likely pique the curiosity of a roomful of listeners), but I found it best played at the level of a live performance to fully appreciate it.
The Pelican and the Girl (and two others) – The Dwindlers
This is a solicited review.