By DAVID RICKERT
July 4, 2011
Most jazz albums involve at least a little bit of preparation: song selection, rehearsals, selection of sidemen and so on. Pear, on the other hand, is after something much more spontaneous and pure on its debut, Extemp'ore. The group is comprised of percussionist Rick Milne and keyboardist Nick Pierone. They enter the studio and play whatever comes to mind, sometimes inviting a few other musicians along for the ride, like bassists Jennifer Leitham and Jimmy Johnson). The songs are then constructed afterward by seamlessly stitching bits and pieces of the studio recordings together to create the tracks, similar to what Miles Davis did with Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969). The liner notes describe the process as like a tightrope walk (not exactly the most original metaphor for jazz), begging the question, given as much time as is required to put a record together: why would Pear favor something this spontaneous?
Well, there's something to be said for getting right to the heart of the creative process by eliminating the need for composing or working through a few set motifs, turning performance into pure creation. Pear essentially takes these bursts of creativity and fashions them into tracks afterwards, using technology, loops, and the like. The end result is a frequently interesting record that explores a lot of terrain: a free jazz burst of energy like "Session 15" is followed up by the trance-like background of "Tribute to Lorraine." There's a melodic sensibility that pops up from time to time, nothing that evolves into an actual song, but enough to ground the wanderings of the duo.
Pear seems split between straddling the avant-garde and the ambient; one track will feature Cecil Taylor-ish excursions while the next will feature lush keyboard soundscapes or exotic instruments like the koto. There's a natural tension between the flurries of notes in free jazz and the minimalist approach of much electronic music, a dichotomy that Pear is more than willing to explore. In addition, Pear seems willing to experiment with added vocals (nothing really in the name of lyrics; one track features answering machine messages while another features French so distorted as to be almost incomprehensible), tape loops, and even a rap (not a very good one, though.) But despite the tracks that might be found cumbersome and bewildering, there's always something new on the horizon, and Extemp'ore ends up being the kind of record that slowly unfolds its secrets.
Extemp'ore is a reminder of the joy and spirit in unfettered creativity and playing. At times the record does seem like a bunch of rehearsal tapes that present interesting ideas that should have been further developed. But who can argue with a duo that's so wickedly interested in taking its own style of playing and tinkering with every new idea that comes along?
rick milne - drums and percussion
nick pierone - piano and keyboards
jennifer leitham - upright bass - trks 1, 3 and 12
carl verheyen - guitar - trk 9
jimmy johnson - bass - trks 4, 7 and 13
prince diabate - kora - trk 11
annie wadhams - voice - trk 2
cindy wonderful - rap - trk 8
sivad selim - voice and trumpet - trk 1
polly and clara pierone - voices - trk 13
lorranie milne - voice message - trk 13
Pear transforms one-take conversation into modern jazz ‘extemp’ore’
The two-man Pear duo of Rick Milne and Nick Pierone pairs jazz with modern, provocative vibrancy in latest release, “extemp’ore.” CREDIT: Rickio Woods
“We’re old friends and have played together in a lot of different musical groups and genres. But we’ve always shared a love of energized improvisational music. So we made a decision to commit to a series of intense, no-holds-barred free jazz recording sessions.” –Pear’s Rick Milne, percussionist
First impressions in jazz make the big difference. Going by this, Pear’s May 24, 2011 CD release, extemp’ore (meaning ad-lib, spontaneous, off-the-cuff), makes for one hell of a first impression.
The listening mind doesn’t quite know what to make of the juxtaposition of Miles Davis’s voice in interview mode — “Don’t play what you know, play what you hear” — with these seemingly random bass and trifling piano sounds coming out of the opening, and pivotal track, “dewey miles.” It’s an awful lot of chaos for one song, and yet, it works, because Pear has sorted out thought, groove, and progressive movement behind the scenes, especially when the trumpet horns in, leading the epiphany toward some sort of hypnotic, reactive resonance.
Nick Pierone and Rick Milne’s use of vocals in a most unusual way — spoken, not sung, in rap, in conversation, in confessional French as if to a lover — enriches the musical score throughout this experimental project. Pierone is a score composer of shorts, theater, TV, so his orchestral style remains prevalent, whether the late, great Miles Davis intones his jazz rap overlay in “dewey miles” or electric bassist Jimmy Johnson (Allan Holdsworth, James Taylor) sets the mood in the lovely “tribute to lorraine,” as if from a sad movie.
Pierone (on piano) and Milne (percussion) gathered together Johnson, and some fine — if not unorthodox — players to add to the one-take, free-form jazz jam sessions that would become “extemp’ore.” Their special guests include upright bassist on command Jennifer Leitham, guitarist Carl Verheyan, trumpeter Sivad Selim, Guinean Kora master Prince Diabate, and punk rapper Cindy Wonderful (Scream Club).
The result is an amazing, often jaw-dropping series of offbeat, original masterpieces culling together the virile, visceral imagination of spontaneity with intuition, and oftentimes, tapping into unbidden sensual explorations.
“the frenchman” exudes animal magnetism and sexual heat, because of Annie Wadhams, who provides the matter-of-fact, droll with the contained animal lust of innate attractiveness — in intoxicating, intimate French. This is one hot song, mostly tension-filled mood music waiting for her to come-hither again, every luscious, foreign word caressed in a lingering temptation.
Another winning blend of spoken word (rap) and music is “c w.” It’s sure to be a favorite, a surefire stand-out, thanks to Cindy Wonderful who seems to be rapping out important, poignant messages, but under a flippant, effortless street backtalk. “Okaaay. … I started out this journey purely out of love. I had an important message, but forgot what it was. Something to do with believing in dreams, being good, and doing what you do, even when you’re misunderstood, y’know. Wrap your head around my flow…” Genius.
The two most lushly melodic, complete songs in and of themselves — suitable for everyday, mainstream listening — are “a nod to her majesty” and “tribute to lorraine.”
“a nod to…” (only 53 minutes) starts off dramatically, as if in a Celine Dion love song — it’s a full-scale, structured melody, very little embellishments or tangents — then turns into “prince open,” another track entirely, a rollicking, skip-dancing Israeli/Middle Eastern jig.
“tribute to lorraine,” written for Milne’s late mom, is somber, contemplative, and a signature piece for bassist Johnson, who roams a lonely musical landscape. Although the repetitive monotone of the piano is kind of bothersome.
Jazzers looking for the full-bore can hit the fast-paced “carl session 2” and be quite happy. Kudos to guitarist Carl Verheyen for his visionary, dimensional chords laying the foundation for some awesome creative interplay with drums, piano, and what seems everything else under the sun. “fast jenn” also fits into the full-bore jazz category, as the best of straight-ahead in a stomping piano, bass, and cymbal fervor.
Improvisation is nothing new to jazz. It’s what jazz is all about. But what colleagues Milne and Pierone have put together is a cohesive network of the most divergent, oddball (spoken word, bedroom French, a voice message from mom — Milne’s mom, a school yard of children gossiping!) fusions, which work strangely well.
“We’re old friends and have played together in a lot of different musical groups and genres,” explained Rick Milne, of his Pear co-partner, Nick Pierone. “But we’ve always shared a love of energized improvisational music. So we made a decision to commit to a series of intense, no-holds-barred free jazz recording sessions.” Sounds like they succeeded.
Artist quotes from a DL Media press release.