On A'A by
Kevin J. Aylmer
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by Bill Carman & Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Recording/Mixdown
engineer Bill Carman. Recorded at Lyx Studio, Worcester, MA. Mixed
at Squid Hell, Jamaica Plain, MA & Lyx, Worcester., MA Digital
Editing done at Virtual Planet, Brighton, MA. CD Audio Mastering,
Roger Seibel, Phoenix, Arizona.
Between images of flying pterodactyls and Tyrannosaurus Rex in
the cover art, Dancing On A'A
might initially appear to be some spin-off of "Jurassic Park."
Stepping nicely beyond the conventional realms of harmony and
melody, dissonance and power chords, the quartet known as Birdsongs
is creating aural excursions, exploring sonic landscapes by mixing
composition and recording expertise. From the electric glow of
the prehistoric paintings in the Altamira caverns of northern
Spain to the volcanic glow of lava in Hawaii, Birdsongs of the
Mesozoic is defying time, space, and gravity.
band member Ken Field: "We're not a dance
band. Without vocals, we try to evoke images and emotions. From
a classical perspective, we use a more varied palette of sound:
Acoustic, electronic, synthesizer." Reminded of critic Milo Miles'
perception of "a party in a Cubist roadhouse" (New York Times,
September 26, 1993), Field chuckles and responds: "We're a dimensional
warp on a traditional party band.
Remember the bar scene in the original "Star Wars"? Bizarre band,
bizarre music. We're like that - music you'd never hear in a bar
now, anywhere. Something futuristic, a little bit warped from
Lovingly pouring rock cliche's into an electronic Cuisine Art,
Dancing On A'A begins
with a distinction: "A Band Of Deborah's (Not Debbie's)." "Here's
a Beavis and Butthead rock lick in 7/4 time, catchy but hard to
dance to," says the composer of the piece, Michael
Bierylo. Bierylo used to be seen playing gigs with Senegalese
drum master Ibrahima Camara; now he's with Birdsongs besides teaching
at the Berklee College of Music. He's also left behind his acoustic
guitar work with Ibrahima for a brave new world of MIDI programming
and teamwork. Mickey Bones of the Cajun-inspired Krewe de Roux
adds a washboard effect and the listener embarks, accomplished
through a wizardry part Tianamen Square chaos, party Kafka's Vienna;
Sturm und Drang as Field's sax meanders
Suddenly, on track two, we've arrived in an atmospheric rain forest,
crunch style, where Pharaoh Saunders meets in the eye of the beholder
Sun Ra's Arkestra. This is called "Dancing
On A'A," the title track revealing the inescapable hold
of Hawaii on the collective imagination of Birdsongs.
In Hawaii, there are two types of lava. The first is smooth and
glossy; the second is rough and full of bubbles. The latter is
called "A'A" (pronounced "Ah Ah" by indigenous Hawaiians) says
band member Ken Field, in all the patient
tones of a field guide escorting tourists. "We've made three trips
to Hawaii, teaching workshops at high schools on the islands.
Places like Oahu and Hilo." In the old whaling port of Hilo, the
passage of time has resulted in a vibrant sense of urban music
and commercial American pop culture. Birdsong is the alternative,
performing in part due to a grant from the State Council On The
Arts. Hawaii permeates this Mesozoic album. The pools, eddies,
and lagoons of Maui; the renascent movement of indigenous Hawaiians
exploring, for instance, the slack key guitar idiom of old; the
current fusion of world music and Japanese drumming now taking
place, the sybaritic meditative retreat of Kalani Honua - these
memories are indelibly printed in Birdsongs' passages. While Leo
Kottke, too, has explored the primordial primitivism of a "Swamp,"
in the hands of these Birdmen, Timothy Leary and MTV are revisited.
Ever-expanding, from primordial ooze and ectoplasm up to the astral
belt, heralded by a soundtrack suggestive of the Starship Enterprise
control room, Birdsongs' "Swamp" is a piano-driven take-off of
H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine." Shades of Hendrix and Nigeria's
Fela superimpose onto blues reminiscent of B.B. King and the power
surges of Deep Purple. Here is Hieronymous Bosch's world, updated,
through a time morphing quality more seamless, to be sure, than
that of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
Again, in "Sirius The Scorching," a liquid lava flow cascade is
evoked through a sax-synthesizer synchronicity that is pure serendipity.
"Sirius" is Latin for "fire"; "A'A" is Hawaiian for "fire"; a
seven-bar "Bolero" pattern is repeated, augmented by the guest
appearance of the Concussion Ensemble. With the Concussion Ensemble
there is a drumming counterpoint to these geysers and undulating
waves of sound. Out of Oceania comes another exploration called
'Birdgam,' a Balinese-flavored excursion full of the exotic sounds
of the Javanese gamelan orchestra. Composer Bierylo recalls. .
began in Hawaii. It's an inspiration while there of Bali. In Balinese
(or Javanese) culture, there's no distinction between musicians
and citizens. Everyone is a musician. In 'Birdgam,' you can feel
the influences of the Pacific Rim nations." Bierylo is adept at
reproducing the sonic textures of Bali, although to the uniformed
it might suggest Spike Lee interpreting 'The Nutcracker Suite'."
Begun as a keyboard-based group in 1980, Birdsongs has maintained
this foundation, while replacing guitar with the flute, percussion,
synthesizer, and King Cleveland slide saxophone sorcery of Ken
Field. Mixed at Squid Hell in Jamaica Plain, Dancing was recorded
at Lyx Studio in Worcester between October, 1993 and April, 1994.
With guests Mickey Bones and Jim Doherty, the album concludes
with a funeral dirge. It's called "The Pearly Eyed March," appropriate
not only for the season, but for a George Winston-like presence;
more quartet magic with colleagues Erik Lindgren
and Rick Scott.
all about different cultural influences and music, arranged in
an unexpected way, with both reverence and irreverence," says
Bierylo. "We rarely gig, although we
will be artists-in-residence at Emory University
this March, with shows in Georgia and North Carolina."
Adds Field: "We are an experience, a bit
avant-garde, like Picasso. If the images in Picasso's paintings
existed, this would be the music they would listen to."
-- Kevin J. Aylmer
Contact: Cuneiform Records, Washington, D.C.; fax (301) 589-1819