There are an awful lot of forward-thinking jazz musicians in Brooklyn and I’m going to tell you (once again) about one such group of guys. What makes this trio Little Worlds stand out within a community of special musicians is that they mine the eighty or ninety year old etudes of a genius of modern classical music. The little band of Rick Parker (trombone, effects, baby toys), Ryan Mackstaller – (guitar, effects, pocket piano) and Tim Kuhl (drums, percussion) is dedicated to playing only the little songs of the great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. In late 2011 they issued their first release, an appropriately “little” album, or EP, named Book One. This EP was put out with the promise of a follow-up EP, and a little more than a year later, Book Two is finally out.
Though the mission of this combo is centered on the miniaturized music of a single composer from long ago, calling Little Worlds a “Béla Bartók tribute band” just doesn’t do them any justice. The three do much more than just play Bartok compositions; they bring an icon of 20th century classical music into the 21st century. As with the prior EP, they leverage certain intricacies in Bartók and apply principles of jazz, avant garde, ambience and even indie rock, and do it in such a way that sounds not like a frankenstein of styles, but instead a whole, singular approach.
They revel in the nuances, and it’s fun to hear Mackstaller and Parker articulate Bartók’s scores on separate but parallel threads, striking the delicate balance of following a chart and charting their own course. At the same time, Kuhl’s expansive drums direct the band through moods from gentle to furious (he does all this, plus a wicked drum solo on “No. 113″). Though these six pieces running less than twenty-five minutes total were probably written without any intended connection to each other, there’s a flow across Book Two that makes it feel as though they were.
I closed my thoughts on Book One by stating “I could certainly stand for more of that.” Book Two leaves me wanting for more, too.