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Howe Gelb | Lull (Thrill Jockey)
Releasing records with the seeming frequency of inner city homicides, Howe Gelb is back, determined to not let an issue of CwaS go by without a new record for us to review. This time round it's Howe and his piano all by their lonesome - no vocals, little else - nineteen sparse and sombre piano pieces recorded both here and in America with nary a sputter or speak on it. The pieces are untitled (well, that's not strictly true but you'll have to check out the back cover to see what I mean) and range from small snippets to larger more melody-oriented rags. Howe has his own piano style and idle references to others would be redundant, no one playing quite like him, so that even though these pieces are instrumental, Howe's voice still comes blazing through like a sudden Arizona sunset. What's surprising is how quiet and meditative the vast majority of the pieces are. After having heard Howe's irreverent, rolling boogie-woogie piano improvisations during his live performances I was expecting more of the same. The only track that in any way approximates those is 16 (one of three pieces with John Convertino and Joey Burns) which moves from a precise hard bop to Joey's elegant bowed bass (cello?) middle section with utter fluency and charm. Other than that it's all hushed, low-key ambience and all the better for it. 1 opens the album with the piano quietly tip-toeing in, recorded at home (Tucson) in a 1902 adobe house on an 1888 piano. The tentative 2, recorded in West London has an ominous feel as it quietly builds up and gathers intensity. 4 is stately and elegiac while 5's distortion (which adds a nice sense of texture) is colourfully due to a 'torn speaker provided by the design tactics of a small child with drum stick.' This is a perfect album for the Autumn, for staring out of windows at the bluster and blare of the city outside, the swirling leaves and misty sprinkle, the hunched and crabbed people shielding themselves from the rain. An album for making plans, plotting novels, falling in love to - ambient music that doesn't try and astound you with its cleverness. Check out the icy staccato punctures of 11 or the rolling Old West sound of 10, played on the 1888 piano with the Internet connecting in the background, sounding like a brilliantly fucked up guitar part until Joey's insistent bass comes creeping stealthily like a Sunday stalker. Just exactly perfect. The jazzy 14 could be the soundtrack to a particularly bleak private dick movie - something Jim Thompson and James Sallis could have concocted together. And yes - of course - need it be said - there's Howe's kid crying / screaming along the way - we wouldn't expect less. So don't be lulled (sorry) into thinking this is going to be the ass kicking follow up to 'Chore' (or 'Confluence') - instead, find a window, a late, slow twilight, break up with a girl, lose your job (you don't need it anyway,) open that bottle and put this record on.
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002