The Sounds of Life
Tom & Ellen
Ellen Christi -vocals, percussion, flute
Tom Bruno -drums, ashimba, bells, flute, piano
3.Piece to Jimmy Anderson
2.Dirge for James B. Christerson
NYCAC 501 - NYCAC Records
In the not-exactly crowded field of recorded vocal - percussion duets , this record doesn't so much stand out, as stand alone.
I can't think of anything that this sounds similar to.
Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln come quickly to mind, but theirs was a dramatic, declamatory 'public' style. Quite different to this, which is largely personal, reflective, and intimate.
Besides, Max and Abbey were quite recognisably "jazz" musicians, often drenched in the blues. Christi and Bruno almost totally avoid conventional jazz gestures here.
Whilst 'ethnic themes' are the setup for pieces on side 1, and 20th century classical song may be informing part of the partly frantic Spaced, the impression you're left with is that Tom and Ellen are playing the music that they hear themselves - their music - and that's it.
No story is ever quite that simple though - I'd be interested to hear how it sounds to others ...
I'm not being accurate anyway in calling this purely a percussion-vocal duet
Bruno plays flute and piano on one section, and both Tom and Ellen duet on flutes for on the Dirge for James B. Christerson. This lament for the death of Christi's father is also the only piece that contains any actual sung words, in the opening of the piece.
From there on though, the vocal improvisations are wordless and range from quiet and introspective meditations through to loud, impassioned and agile muti-note phrasing.
Christi largely eschews the often heard 'primal scream' style of free improvised vocals - with its ululating, shrieks and big vocal scoops and slides. Instead -whilst frequently clearly emotional - she tends to hit notes bang-on - and her pitch is really secure even in the more frantic passages.
I really like the colour of her voice (she varies it to great effect in some passages), which anyone who listened to the earlier two NYAC records posted here will be familiar with.
This duo LP predates those records - and was the first release on their newly established NYAC Records (New York City Artists' Collective). The And You Ain't Ready For This One Either LP followed it three years later in 1979, followed by the NYAC Plays Butch Morris in 1984.
To my knowledge, these were the only 3 albums released on the NYCAC label. For further details about the NYCAC, albeit meagre, please see either of the preceding posts.
It seems kind of sad that this first LP has dedications for people who had died - both Ellen's father, and - as the liner notes explain - a composition/improvisation for a recently deceased friend .
The next LP featured a dedication for members of Juan Quiñones' family that had perished in a fire.
And the last record (and the first one posted here) was put up here anyway, in memoriam Butch Morris.
Although Tom Bruno died in 2012, Ellen Christi is still very much alive and has had a long career and issued a bunch of albums along the way. Please consider - if you've enjoyed any of these NYAC Bruno/Christi posts buying some in-print material of the artists in question.
For Ellen Christi, you can visit her website. There are a few MP3 samples there, although online stores may offer more in the way of sound samples. You will also find additional releases that Ellen hasn't included on her site's discography page.
As always - 9GC advocates purchasing from artists you enjoy and respect !
Tom Bruno plays what sounds like an African thumb piano at the beginning of the record - it is in fact an ashimba - struck with mallets, it's in fact more like an earthy xylophone. As the rear jacket notes, the ashimba was made by a gentleman in Leesburg, Virginia . The man in question Mr Gene Ashton, is one and the same as well-known multi-instrumental improviser Cooper-Moore.
When I was a kid, records would occasionally come out (sometimes books too ) - where the artist decided to name-check everyone who ever influenced them or they wanted to tip their hat to. Maybe sometimes they wanted to show off too - show how hip their list of influences was So they'd end up with these enormous great mad lists paying tribute to God, Madame Curie, Mahatma Gandhi and Carlos Castaneda - or whoever.. Most of these lists tended to include the Creator - in one form or another - which, on reflection sounded pretty logical.
The great thing about these over-the-top 'thankyou' lists was that - in those pre-internet days - you could find out stuff about other marginal figures out there in the world whose work might interest you. Some of the names might be familiar, distantly or otherwise, others would be totally unknown. In the days when you couldnt google anything, because google and the internet did not exist, and you had no hip friends or relatives, these jumbles of names and works were like a cipher or pathway on to other interesting and exciting places.
The Sounds of Life has got one of the best thankyou lists of them on on the back jacket - well over 100 names. Most, but by no means all, are musicians. Check it out for some great names and some fabulous juxtapositions. "Don Cherry, Miss Carol, Earl Coleman, Betty Carter, Caravaggio..." (spelled here "Caraveggio")
I like the list on the back cover, and I like the music on the record. It has an intimacy and honesty that's valuable and that's compelling in an understated way.
Your thoughts and comments, welcome.
Note that I have not split tracks in making these files - the performances flow from one title to another, so the 2 FLAC files in the download are simply Side A & Side B. Large scans and info included.
Hope you enjoy.
Ellen Christie's Website - http://www.ellenchristi.com/
Tom Bruno Memorial - http://tombrunothedrummer.tumblr.com/
Eclectic Arts - NYAC Website - http://eclecticarts.org/index.htm
TEST - Tom Bruno's group with Sabir Mateen, Daniel Carter & Matthew Heyner - http://www.sabirmateen.com/ensembles/test
Tom Bruno 'White Boy Blues' on Eremite Records- http://eremite.com/album/mte-22
If you have respect for artists, please BUY music from them or through legit outlets !
It supports the prospect of continued creativity.