New You in the IARJC

Oakland, California based Arts & Sciences is a quartet with two saxophonists, Jacob Zimmerman on alto and Matt Nelson on tenor, electric keyboardist and composer Michael Coleman, and drummer Jordan Glenn. Their CD New You, issued on Aram Shelton’s Singlespeed Music imprint, is a blast of freewheeling West Coast invention with an eclectic batch of tunes and plenty of electronic textures. People Really Like Me opens the proceedings with sludgy keyboards and slowly growling saxophones over a variety of clanks and cymbal splashes. When a beat asserts itself about two minutes in, the saxes take up a bluesy moaning theme in unison. The track rolls on until it fades in a six note circular theme. The band roars back with Poodle, a fast and hard riff, with pockets of improvisation that blows by in just over a minute. Baby Boner has a perky theme, but the section for improvising starts out slow and murky before exploding into full bore crashing funk with wailing saxes, pounding drums, and pummeled keyboards. Eventually it resolves into a repeated staccato lick that slowly fades out. The brief Step Child is a sweet melody with a few little hiccups, and it’s over before you know it. The boldly aggressive opening of Those Lepers is briefly supplanted by a spy movie soundtrack theme with moaning saxes before they play the opening riffs again to end the piece. An odd contrast, but played with a bravado combination of total conviction and tongue slightly in cheek. Seram and Shunting are two flavors of ferocious jazz rock, one swirling and intense, the other more atomized with invigorated saxophone dueling. The group expands to an octet on Scientology, with shimmering cymbals and electronic washes to start and a dramatic and stately them lovingly arranged for the horns that reminds me vaguely of the music of Abdullah Ibrahim. Jazz/Shadow concludes the disc with a good time vamp, tongues firmly in cheek this time as they roll on out. Arts & Sciences makes adventuresome music, characterized by Coleman’s gift for melodic invention and the group’s swampy sound. Well worth a listen.

By Stuart Kremsky. Originally published in the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal. Vol. 46, NO. 2,  June, 2013.

New You at Shanley on Music

The members of the Oakland, CA quartet Arts & Sciences all spent time in a conservatory or two. In addition to learning their instruments on campus, nearly all having logged time in the odd pop band tUnE-yArDs. They also all have an affinity for prog-flavord free improv and composition. In particular, they seem to have digested a good bit of Tim Berne’s oeuvre. Admittedly they cite the alto saxophonist’s Bloodcount band in their bio, but the quartet seems closer to Science Friction, his more electric group. It could attributed to Michael Coleman’s electric keyboards which build structures for Jacob Zimmerman (alto) and Matt Nelson (tenor) to develop, or knock down, depending on the situation. Drummer Jordan Glenn completes the band and adds aggresive feeling to the playing, sometimes like Jim Black.

No specific songwriting credits are listed anywhere on the cover, although Coleman’s name appears with “ASCAP” next to it. Zimmerman actually penned one of the 10 tracks but by leaving the specifics off the cover, Arts & Sciences comes across like a unit rather than a band led by one particular player.

New You includes a few instances of conservatory geek humor. Case in point: “Baby Boner,” a title which the band hopefully will come to regret and re-name. This suite-like episode, like opener “People Really Like Me,” also proves that the quartet enjoys abrasive repetition. The latter drifts off with Zimmerman blowing a two-note loop, while one-third of the 10-minute former track gets stuck on an odd-meter lick that only changes in texture and dynamics. Abrasive? Yes. Unlistenable? Not really. Maybe just on the first listen.

Before “Baby Boner” gets to that point, it borrows what I like to call the “scenery changing” solo approach from Berne, where the background changes while a solo happens. The twist comes in who appears to be soloing. In this case, it’s Coleman and Glenn, while the two saxmen work and rework the setting. “Scientology” adds guitar and three extra horns (including Singlespeed head honcho Aram Shelton) but the out of tempo piece sticks a little too closely to its slow theme, with just a brief spot for a keyboard/drum break. Better is “Shunting” which starts out free and furious, shapes into a heavy groove and then breaks down again.

The longer tracks are punctuated by shorter pieces that serve like interludes. In fact, the 31-second “Missed Opportunity” feels like the acoustic piano exposition for “Scram,”‘ which immediately follows and begins with Coleman rapidly spinning a nervy synth cluster. Other times, they hang around long enough to get a choppy melody out there (“Poodle,” another tip of hat to Berne angularity), prove that they can play chamber music relatively straightly (“Step Child”) or go through several prog-y shapes in a less than three minutes, including one that sounds like a tripped out quote from Raymond Scott (“Those Lepers”).

Clearly Arts & Sciences has a variety of backgrounds and influences to draw on with their work. Sometimes when the ideas get thrown together in a somewhat reckless fashion, the results feel a little scattered. In their case, the uninhibited qualities of these guys work to their advantage.

Original post at Shanley on Music.

New You at JazzWrap

The American west coast continues to bubble with urgency, at least on the improvised front, so we turn to Oakland, CA and the dynamic talents of a new quartet, Arts & Sciences. On their second release, New You, released on Aram Shelton’s Singlespeed Music (he also plays on one track), this quartet show that they have a lot of improvisational ideas that can fight with the best of the New York and Chicago scenes.

“Baby Boner” slowly rises with delicately paced improvised notes, then folds into a high octane, pulse-pounding collision of sound. It felt like a segment of Miles Davis’ Agharta. Dueling tenor and alto saxophones cause a cacophony in the middle section which sound beautiful smashed against Coleman’s keys and Glenn’s unyielding kit. The quartet later come down gently in a psychedelic interlude of squeals on the rhodes and tiny percussion tones that give off a Steve Reich ambiance.

The band site Tim Berne is an influence. It can be heard and felt in throughout but that’s just the building blocks. Nelson and Zimmerman take that influence and turn it into their own fun, free floating nihilistic structure. “Scram” illustrates this with a number of challenging expositions and exchanges between the horn section and clashing notes from Coleman and Glenn. The rhythm is easy to pick up but you’ll probably be more entranced by how much fun they’re having with this piece…brilliant!

“Scientology” is wonderful ensemble piece featuring Aram Shelton on clarinet, Rob Ewing (trombone), Theo Padouvas (trumpet) and Andrew Conklin (guitar). It’s almost an improvised balled with echoes of Joe Zawinul sprinkled about. Pleasant yet strikingly bold. It’s an expansive piece that allows the musicians a lot of freedom while maintaining a real clear direction.

Original post at JazzWrap

New You at East Bay Express

Michael Coleman’s more famous indie rock trio, Beep!, provides a helpful primer and reference point for anyone trying to understand this one. In many ways, Arts & Sciences falls in the same aesthetic vein, albeit with jazzier instrumentation (woodwinds, percussion, keys instead of piano-bass-drums), and a freer format — he characterizes the outfit as modern jazz, without any rock pretensions. Monstrously talented tenor saxophonist Matt Nelson and altoist Jacob Zimmerman handle most of the heads, which are in most cases more challenging, and more harmonically abstract, than any of Coleman’s prior releases. Even a purposefully quirky tune like “Those Lepers,” which starts off brash but gets all woozy and viscous in the middle, demands several listens before you can digest it.

With all that said, Coleman’s dorky sense of humor is fully intact. The first tune on this album, a protracted, slow lead-in that opens on a two-minute crescendo (effected via Nelson’s guttural horn growl and Jordan Glenn’s pitter-patter percussion), bears the charmingly sheepish title “People Really Like Me” (which is hard to write without adding an emoticon at the end). Among the other tracks are “Baby Boner” — a groany but incongruously gorgeous ballad about, well, a boner, apparently — and the more richly orchestrated “Scientology,” which features four additional musicians: bass clarinetist Aram Shelton, trumpeter Theo Padouvas, trombonist Rob Ewing, and guitarist Andrew Conklin. All jokes aside, it’s pretty hard stuff, altogether more complicated and a little less accessible than Beep! But the rewards are commensurate.

Original post at East Bay Express