David Fiuczynski – Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam (2016)

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Listening to the microtonal world of David Fiuczynski is like thinking that our solar system is a pretty vast world and then remembering that it’s just a speck on a galaxy and that there are millions of other galaxies out there. ‘Fuze’ opens the door to a whole other musical universe when he plays all those notes between the set intervals of Western music theory and its 12-tone chromatic scale, which he accurately describes as “just a suggestion.” In opening the door outside the Western house and playing outside where everything else is musically possible, this truly unique composer, fretless guitarist and music educator demonstrates how much more is possible in music.

‘Outside’ that house is also where the leader of the Screaming Headless Torsos found the birds. And a renowned hip-hop producer. And ancient, Eastern and Southern Asian music. It all comes together with conventional forms in multi-level East vs West, Old vs New, Nature vs Man contrasts he calls Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian MicroJam. Issued by RareNoise Records March 25, 2016, Flam! has a comic book styled titled but it’s actually very descriptive of the music behind that title. ‘Flam’ refers to the “flammed” backbeat innovation of hip-hop producer legend J Dilla. ‘Pan-Asian’ forms show up with motifs that reference everything from Japanese folk music to the Carnatic music of the Subcontinent. It’s all pulled together into a performance that still allows for improv, with those microtones being the overriding component, i.e., a ‘Microjam.’

The first seven songs are actually movements of a connected theme dedicated to J Dilla and another pioneer, the great 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen. Messiaen also happened to be an ornithologist and inserted birdsong transcriptions into his music. Likewise, Fiuczynski used field recordings of the birdcalls from the Common Loon, the Carolina Chickadee, the Northern Nightingale, the Blackface Solitaire and the Brazilian Uirapuru as the basis for the unusual melodies of these songs.

Everyone in Fuze’s ensemble plays an instrument capable of microtones; even keyboardists Utar Artun and Jake Sherman have microtonal keyboards in their arsenals. Playing alongside them are Helen Sherrah-Davies (violin), Yazhi Guo (suona, a sort of Chinese oboe), Justin Schornstein (fretless bass, efx) and Alex ‘BisQuiT’ Bailey (drums, bells and percussion).

Your sense of what is music gets assaulted starting with “Loon-Y Tunes,” which, amid all the birdcalls, sounds like Japanese-influenced jazz perfectly played except that it’s off pitch. Which, of course, is the point. It gets even wiggier with the guitar/microtonal keyboard patterns played on “Dance of the UiraPuru,” and the violin and suona afterwards take turns leading this strange brew. For the solemn “Gagaku Chord Candy,” Fuze and Guo play out the mystic harmony together amid a formal, sacred air appropriate for the classical Japanese Imperial music. J Dilla’s hat tip comes on “Flam,” with that flammed beat is turned on and off like someone playing with the switch. Set to the small interval notes, it’s like funk from outer space. All of these ideas and more are summed up on “Waldstimmen,” and then breaks down into micro-toned free jazz, as if free jazz wasn’t offbeat enough.

Fiuczynski tacked on a trio of songs to the Messiaen/J Dilla suite that features his microtonal partner in crime Rudresh Mahanthappa. The groundbreaking alto saxophonist share Fuze’s fondness for blending Asian microtonal music into jazz, and “Uira Happy Jam” is a fusion song in both the American and bird call sense (this time inspired by that Brazilian Uirapuru bird). “Organ Wren” with its exotic percussion is especially Oriental in feel, and “Loon-Ly Solitaire” is Fiuczynski letting loose with blues-rock riffing on his fretless guitar riffing.

Well before the end of the album, these exotic sounds go from seeming strange to being strangely enticing. Once you accept the weird, wonderful microtonal world of David Fiuczynski, the universe gets much, much bigger. And better, too.

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