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Review: Syrinx Effect, “Snail Songs”

syrinx[written for Earshot Jazz]

Among the many young ensembles creating action-packed music within Seattle’s productive jazz and creative music scene, the Syrinx Effect is a standout. Playing (usually) without a rhythm section, the soprano sax-trombone duo draws propulsive energy from the air like a wind turbine. The group’s second release, out this month, channels that energy into a tuneful and confident set of composed pieces, making Snail Songs a nicely contrasting pair with last year’s gnarly and sweet, a set of unvarnished free improvisations.

In fact, the Syrinx Effect seems to be all about the nicely contrasting pairs–Kate Olson’s skybound reeds with Naomi Siegel’s gently loping trombone; the group’s double commitment to both improvised and composed music, and the two halves of their acoustic palette, which augments the two’s live playing with samples and looped duplicates of themselves. In the new recording, all of these pairings make for a fluid dance, in which sax and trombone slither in and out of the musical foreground, set against an electronic continuo of echoes and loops. (The effect is often as if Pauline Oliveros had been the third member of Jimmy Giuffre’s late 50’s trio with Bob Brookmeyer.)

Moods on Snail Songs range from bouncy to becalmed, and generally more sweet than gnarly. Olson’s lovely “Respired by” has Siegel stretching out in a breathy, bluesy solo, then slowly building up a buzzing, didgeridoo-like drone, before both players come together for the tune’s main theme. In Siegel’s graceful closer “Lonesome and the Moonbuggy,” a gently swinging duet gradually dissolves into a sundrenched pool of prismatic harmonies.

Both Siegel and Olson are members of several other ticketworthy performing groups (including Wayne Horvitz’s Royal Room Collective Music Ensemble), so there is no shortage of opportunities to catch performances of these rising lights of the Seattle jazz scene. But a Syrinx Effect gig is worth seeking out on its own–not to mention Snail Songs.

Flotation Device top 15 recordings from 2013

Every December, KBCS invites producers to prepare a list of the year’s best recordings, so each year my Flotation Device co-host John Seman and I prepare our own top 15 lists. This year’s list draws from the sound worlds we provisionally describe as creative and improvised music, experimental soundscapes, etc. Pacific NW artists are represented by a number of great releases this year. These are in no particular order:

Lori Goldston: Film Scores (Sub Rosa)

William Parker: Wood Flute Songs (Aum Fidelity)

Bill Orcutt: A History of Every One (Palilalia)

Syrinx Effect: Gnarly and Sweet (self-released)

Powerdove: Do You Burn? (Circle into Square)

Neil Welch: 12 Tiny Explosions (Table and Chairs)

Figeater: Sweet Figeater Surprise (self-released)

Steve Peters: Lingua Franca (Present Sounds)

John Luther Adams: Inuksuit (Cantaloupe)

Samantha Boshnack/B’Shnorkestra: Go To Orange (Present Sounds)

William Winant: Five American Percussion Pieces (Poon Village)

Angelica Sanchez, Wadada Leo Smith: Twine Forest (Clean Feed)

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy)

Chuck Johnson: Crows in the Basilica (Three Lobed)

Okkyung Lee: Ghil (Ideologic Organ)

Flotation Device

kbcs_logoI’ve been producing the creative and improvised music program Flotation Device at Seattle’s community radio station KBCS since the summer of 2001–feels like a long time! My biweekly cohosts have included “El Fred” Gilbert, composer Chris DeLaurenti and, now, bassist and local music organizer John Seman.

On any given Sunday evening, listeners are likely to hear a range of action-packed and exciting sounds from free jazz practitioners like William Parker, modern composers such as Pauline Oliveros, acoustic collagists, genre refugees and electronic envelope-pushers of the highest degree. The program is both highly international and insistently local–highlighting the live and recorded work of some of Seattle’s best young outside jazz and experimental sound artists.

Flotation Device airs each Sunday, from 10pm to midnight, on KBCS 91.3fm. Recent archived audio and playlist archives are on the station’s website.

Older playlists are archived on the program’s Facebook page (give us a like!).

A Seattle Buddhist Centennial

The Seattle Betsuin Buddhist Temple (Seattle Buddhist Church) celebrated its centennial in 2001. For the temple and its multigenerational community, it was a year full of celebration and contemplation–and for Susan Gleason and I, an opportunity to capture an incredible story about a quietly resilient community.

Before ever visiting the temple, Susan and I were struck by a sense of wonder at what it meant for a Japanese-American community institution to have planted immigrant roots in a West Coast city at the beginning of the twentieth century; to have endured the indignities and horrors of racism, displacement and internment; and to have continued to flourish in the decades and generations since.

We took our audio recorders to the temple and spoke with temple members of different generations–mostly Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) and Sansei (grandchildren of immigrants), along with the temple’s head priest, Rev. Don Castro. The result was a 10-minute radio feature, first broadcast on KBCS’s program Voices of Diversity.

Listen here: A Seattle Buddhist Centennial (mp3).