Bobby Previte – Rhapsody (2018)

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While I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the wack (but admittedly inspired) idea of marrying heavy metal to a 15th century choral concerto, Bobby Previte has moved on to another off-the-wall idea.

Rhapsody (Rare Noise Records) is a major work that’s actually the second part of a larger, three-part artistic venture centered on the notion and experience of travel. Whereas Terminals Part I: Departures examines the beginning of the journey, Rhapsody delves into the transit, that part where the passenger is placed at the trust and mercy of strangers and the laws of physics.

Long past the notion of being merely a drummer and percussionist, Previte again acts as composer, bandleader and a multi-instrumentalist (he also plays guitar, autoharp and harmonica for this occasion). But never one to put a fence around his abilities, Previte for the first time is adding “lyricist” to his skills list. Previte uses words as guideposts, sung at key points by Jen Shyu. Joining the two are Zeena Parkins (harp), Fabian Rucker (alto sax), John Medeski (piano) and Nels Cline (guitars).

Previte approached Rhapsody like a symphony, at least with its nearly continuous flow over nine songs, the mesmerizing motifs, the crafty blend of instruments and set-aside solo showcases, it sure feels like a symphony. It’s entirely acoustic alright but also entirely contemporary.

The “Casting Off” is a cycling motif that wouldn’t be out of place in a prog rock song, and Shyu’s vocal closely follows it; her voice is another instrument blended into the whole montage of instruments. “All The World” leaps into a new repeating figure, and it’s often interrupted by bursts of improvised sax moments by Rucker. Previte’s lyrics as relayed by Shyu describe the scenery on the ground from the towering height of a plane having achieved altitude.

The single notes from a piano evoke curious responses from guitar and harp on the desolate “The Lost.” The harp simulates a mandolin on “The Timekeeper,” especially as it blends in with acoustic guitar, and “All Hands” makes that harp/guitar blend the centerpiece, each part providing a layer to the groove mosaic and building up to a platform for Shyu’s lines.

“Last Stand/Final Approach” is a solemn spotlight for Parkins, who lets her harp strums resonate like a guitar. A spiritual appearance of a violin-like erhu performed by Shyu followed by a brief harmonica aside from Previte presages a building momentum toward a soft landing accordingly called “I Arrive,” which leaves us with the same uncertainty of what’s ahead that marked the beginning of the journey.

Previte knows he’s got world-class improvisers in Medeski and Cline, and also understands how to use them outside their normal, plugged-in roles. Though neither got a lot of chances to step out in the spotlight alone, where those occur they adjust beautifully to the setting. Medeski shows a very introspective side rarely seen from him for his aside on “When I Land,” and Cline gets the stage alone for a while on “All Hands” to deliberate on acoustic guitar, blissfully avoiding playing to a style.

Whether it’s individual heroics or wonderful ensemble symmetry, Rhapsody begins with the mind of Bobby Previte. He not only had a concept but saw it to a fully developed work that stays true to its mission and articulated it well.


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