Curtis Hasselbring – Number Stations (2013)

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Curtis Hasselbring heads up a couple of bands and on the spy-themed Number Stations he rubs them together and watches the sparks fly.

A trombonist, guitarist, composer — and did we mention bandleader? — this Either/Orchestra alum struck out on his own after that stint to make a name for himself. The thing is, Hasselbring wasn’t content to make his mark within a single context, he opened up multiple fronts in his career to satisfying all the facets of his artistry. In the late 80s he formed the unconventional fusion outfit Mellow Edwards, reforming it later in the 2000’s as the New Mellow Edwards with Trevor Dunn (bass), John Hollenbeck (drums) and Chris Speed (sax). On a quieter side is his Decoupage quartet, featuring guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer/percussionist Satoshi Takieshi and vibraphonist Matt Moran. “Curha” is the moniker Hasselbring uses for his own one-man-band projects, which usually involves using electronica to rework some of his own songs.

The Curha persona is kept at bay, but Hasselbring puts many of his other ones in the same studio room for this project themed on the belief that those short-wave radio stations that send out unexplained sequences of numbers are actually coded instructions from spy agencies to agents all over the globe. Some might find that hokey, but Hasselbring applies that method to his bands, where it becomes a method very conducive for the experimental kind of rock/jazz he and his double-ensemble creates. In casting his combos against each other, signals are sent out to the performers, controlling how they align with each other, providing guidance for improvisation over scored pieces.

These seven participants (Ches Smith replaces Hollenbeck on drums) are all seasoned pros of the downtown New York scene, so even with the redundancy at drums and, occasionally, guitar, they know just what to do with the slightest of cues. The cues won’t necessarily become apparent to the general populace, and I can only guess that when things sound Morse code-ish, as on Dunn’s high-end bass figures on “First Bus To Bismarck” or when he and Halvorson double up for a random pulse during “Tux Is Traitor,” for instance, something stealthy is going on.

But it doesn’t matter how the music gets created, it all comes together in a highly coordinated, highly virtuosic way. The internal disquiet of Decoupage and the brash, unpredictable charm of the New Mellow Edwards come together to form songs that are twice as idiosyncratic. “Bismarck,” for instance, is dominated by a dark aura of anticipation, the Hasselbring epitomizes with a trombone solo that is as expressive as it is tentative. Over the choppy tempo of “Tux”, Halvorson mixes it up with the horns before Speed proceeds on sax with trepidation.

And it only gets kinkier from there. “Make Anchor Babies” begins with the double marching beats of Smith and Takieshi before launching into bossa nova lounge jazz. Of course, it can’t stay accessible forever, so that motif breaks down into freak-out, then crash lands into a spacey, spooky segment, where Halvorson dribbles liquid notes. “Green Dress, Maryland Welcome Center 95 NB” is also episodic, roaring out the gate as all-out rock ‘n’ roll and mutating into a Halvorson free jazz showcase, and then, finally, a genteel passage. “37° 56′ 39″ by 111° 32′” opens with a double-drums solo intro, veering right into a rock backbeat and the most ingratiating, melody of the album. It ends up being a platform for some of the best Hasselbring/Speed interactions of the project.

Full of mystery, intrigue and deceptive maneuvers, Number Stations is Curtis Hasselbring at his most enterprising. Like a good novel, each song is a chapter that thickens the plot and goes off in an unexpected directions, By the end of the thing, there’s much left to contemplate and solve, making me eagerly go back to pick up more of the coded bits that I missed on the prior listen.

Number Stations dropped on January 29, by Cuneiform Records. Visit Curtis Hasselbring’s website for more info.

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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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