Friday, December 13, 2019

Dor Herskovits' 'Flying Elephants': Eclecticism raised to the intense level of a manifesto

Dor Herskovits takes artistic breadth seriously.
In the debut recording of his quintet, drummer Dor Herskovits has created a true album — to revive that nearly discarded description of what was once applied to 78s in bound paper sleeves in unified packages for our grandparents.

The Israeli musician, now living in Boston, thinks of "Flying Elephants" (Endectomorph Music) as an integral artistic package, in which the music one hears connects essentially to poetry and artwork in the booklet. The 10 pieces the quintet plays aren't so much a suite, though, as signposts on what Herskovits conceives as an artistic journey. If you fly with his notions as well as his elephants, what results is a new concept of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk applied to original 21st-century jazz. For better or worse, "Flying Elephants" is an album.

A totemic pachyderm from Herskovits' Facebook page.
I found that the music led me to desirable mental places that the other artistic materials didn't support. Poetry and visual art may serve vital purposes for the composer-performer and his colleagues, but the music can stand on its own. It is free-ranging in its sources and analogues, and some knowledge of what may strike the ear as miscellaneous is occasionally helpful, particularly with the title track. The internal rapport of the group is solid.

The evocations of Thelonious Monk in "Recursion" are delectable and smoothly brought to the foreground, with some wry bowed bass from Max Ridley. The leader's approach to the drum set is remarkably fresh: The gradually assembled solo he lays down in "Recursion" displays his keen ear and sense of pacing.

Making a piece work out of material that rubs up against its neighbors seems to be a habit with this group: The quirky, almost hesitant start of "Magenta" morphs into a guitar rave-up by Caio Afiune, before relaxing the tension in a poky conversation focusing on saxophone (Hery Paz) and piano (Isaac Wilson). The different tempos work well together, and instrumental color — here and elsewhere in the album — contributes vitally to the mosaic.

It's hard to distinguish genuine feeling from mockery at times. But that shouldn't be a problem in what might be dizzyingly called our post-postmodern era. "Sob" features a (satirically?) moody guitar and Paz's wavery, moaning saxophone. "Bangin'" goes to the outside from the start, then draws in iron filings around a post-bop magnet in the front line, with great variety in Herskovits' drumming.

A few tracks feel fragmentary ("New fashioned") or simply vague ("Water"). Even the disappointments in this set are central to the spirit of jazz, which tries things out when it can avoid proceeding by rote. Yet Herskovits may make excessive claims for the overall result: you can't "un-read" such braggadocio as this from the press release: " is fresh, original and has many layers one can enjoy as the music is explored deeply."

The truth of such an artist statement necessarily must be left up to the listener. This one was charmed  by the album.

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