Bizingas – Bizingas (2010)

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by Mark Saleski

See, I just knew I was going to like this album. About twenty seconds into the first listen and the whole “Is it jazz?/Is it rock?/What the hell is it?” issue popped up — almost always a recipe for a good time. Heck, I knew even before that because their name is so much fun to say.

Oh, you might think I’m cracking wise here but let’s face it, some jazz groups are too uptight to let loose and have a good time. No way anybody in a “Bizingas” is going to dress in a snazzy suit, play the head, plays some solos, and repeat the head.

Funny but truthful side note: If you Google their name, the site says: “Did you mean: bazongas?” I’m not kidding.

All kidding aside (for at least a few sentences), Bazingas is a most unusual quartet lead by trombonist Brian Drye. To Drye’s horn (and occasional piano and synth), add cornet (Kirk Knuffke), guitar (Jonathan Goldberger), and drums (Ches Smith).

If this reads like Bizingas could be a jazz ensemble, then you might be right, but it depends on how you define jazz. A better approach would be to drop the label and enjoy the music.

Take the opening track “Tagger.” Is it a rock song with horns or a jazz composition with guitar? The guitar spends nearly all of the tune laying down a series of energetic chords that the horns chase each other around and in between. The ‘bone/cornet/guitar trio affords some great pairings, as when each of the horns fall into unison with the guitar as support for a solo from the other horn. It’s an exhilarating ball of energy, is what.

While not all of the selections drive as hard as “Tagger,” the album does not lack for intrigue. Where a more traditional jazz groups might stick with familiar rhythmic/melodic roles, the players in Bizingas spend a lot of time mixing things up. On “TMT,” the initial passages start out in that well-worn vein: percussion underneath piano. The ever-sensitive Chas Smith manages to telegraph some of the melodic phrases to come with his incredible cymbal work. Indeed, Drye’s right hand soon comes into play as does Knuffke on cornet. “Pastoral” begins life with slow, elegant phrases played in unison. This gives way to a percussion/trombone ostinato that builds a platform for some commentary by the cornet and guitar.

Switch all of this around with “Stretched Thin,” whose opening lines are played by trombone and glockenspiel, again laying the foundation for guitar/cornet counterpoint. Just as you’ve settled into the comfortable vamp, the Moog synth kicks in, putting the those initial phrases on blurpy repeat. But wait, there’s more! The synth actually goes sort of Emerson, Lake & Palmer crazy on us! I mean that in the best possible way. It’s clear that serious fun was had by all on this track.

As you can see, there are many twists and turns on this album, making it one of those “discover more on each listen” kind of deals. As usual, it’s nearly impossible to pick favorites. During one session, I’m knocked out by Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar-in-a-cavern during “Untitled Moog Anthem.” The next time through, it’s the energy flare of the wicked introduction to “Ilumination.” That’s what happens when categories are avoided, and when free improv and composition give each other as much room as possible…though I still think that the funny name helps.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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