2-CD large ensemble recording featuring prominent voices in Southern California's improvised and creative music world.
reviews of Nathan Hubbard Skeleton Key Orchestra (CMCD039A-B)
By far Nathan Hubbard's most ambitious project to date,
this 2-CD set presents over two and a half hours of music performed
by his Skeleton Key Orchestra, a shape-shifting large big band of West
Coast jazz players and free improvisers. The instrumentation includes
lots of saxophones, trombones and acoustic basses, along with guitars,
more strings, lots of percussion, and occasional electronics from members
of the Trummerflora collective (namely Marcelo Radulovich, Marcos Fernandes
and Damon Holzborn). Hubbard's writing leaves plenty of room for creative
solo improvisations and structured/conducted group improvisations, but
it is anchored in a firm jazz basis, with elements of Ellington, Coltrane
and Ayler shining through. Frank Zappa's big band writing is not far
either, along with some Latin American flavors. But all those influences
have been digested and integrated in Hubbard's very own style, a style
that owes a lot to contemporary classical, free jazz and European free
improvisation. The music is lively yet complex, and the long pieces
(nothing under 11 minutes, two of them over the half-hour mark) go through
several mood swings, from romantic melodiesto raucous avant-jazz heads
and rockish riffs, to downright collective (controlled) chaos. Manifests
range from 10 players to three times as much.
François Couture/All Music Guide
Delire Actuel's Top 20 albums of 2004
And the winners are...
1. Magma / K.A (Kohntarkosz Anteria) (Seventh)
Paris Transatlantic Magazine April 2005
JAZZ - Nathan Hubbard SKELETON KEY ORCHESTRA Circumvention 039A-B 2CD
Nathan Hubbard - SKELETON KEY ORCHESTRA: We reviewed some of Nathan's crisp & tasty jazz/improv drum works (last summer, I believe), but he's outdone himself with this double CD (from Circumvention Music - www.circumventionmusic.com). This is some of the most inspired improvisation I've ever heard (& as regular readers know, I've heard, & played, a LOT of improvised music). One of the most attractive features of th' music(s) on Nathan's CD's is that the pieces are sort of "split"... a rhythm/pattern will kick off, & you'll go groovin' along, only to find that it is "interrupted" by (what you think is) a totally different piece... but when you check th' tracking, it's still on th' track it started from. What's cool about this is that after the 3rd or 4th listening, you "catch on", & realize that the second (or third or fourth) part(s) belonged together. One of the things I really, REALLY dug on this outing was the poetry pieces woven in... the tracks are really LONG (one of them clocks in at over 36 minutes), too, so in order to totally experience th' sonic picture they're painting for your ears, you must reserve a couple of hours. Don't expect to (be able to) absorb this one "on the fly". This is (actually) the first "big band improv" album I've reviewed this year - but the levels of creativity & talent displayed already make it the PICK of '04 for "best improvised band"! Definitely MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. - Rotcod Zzaj - Improvijazzation Nation
Nathan Hubbard Skeleton Key Orchestra 2xCD (Circumvention) An excess of riches. I love Hubbard's inventive improvisational percussion style, and this set of eight lengthy pieces (the number of players alone justify the "orchestra" appellation) shows off his musical instincts to their fullest. An ever-challenging and inventive series of works. -Aiding and Abbetting
Ragazzi, Volkmar Mantei
On the two CDs of the new Nathan Hubbard of work "Skeleton key Orchestra" there are straight once 8 TRACKS. The shortest over 11 minutes long, the longest well over 30. Those almost unsurpassably FATS occupation list worked, one can come before the benefit of hearing the music on the two CDs into sweating: which for a program! Which for a material battle! Did the also good microphones for the recording use? Didn't the Blechblaeser stand only beside the Holzblaesern? The Streicher with Marimba, bell play and Maracas? The electrical guitar beside the electronics engineer? Over 35 musicians in some the pieces were involved: at many wind instruments, stringed instruments, key board, different Perkussion, Electronics. How does one write arrangements for such a large ensemble? Besides: in the improvisativen music, which partly composes for this work, but comes oneself nevertheless to a large extent from the energy of the group and, Trance, up-swung, carried from the particular as from the group? Nathan Hubbard, schlagzeuger and head of this enterprise, struck certainly itself some nights around the ears, in order to master this complex work - and is probably with each problem solution encountered three new problems. What courage belongs to, however which engineer-technical achievement to arrange and accomplish this adventure? The sound of the pieces is excellently, even in the excited Freejazz attacks, which sound wildly and heart-pounding dynamic grandios, as if the Eiffel tower would swing that one solidifies to stone. Likewise in the quiet, intimate moments, in the Soli and amazingly melodischen passages.
All ring around the music marvelously succeeded and one
arranged masterful. But the music, exceeds these things nearly small
beside it insignificant and far. That begins with the Virtuositaet of
the first piece, in the suddenly starting force of the dramatically
cracking TRACK. The enormous, exaltierte unloading of clenched tonal
and sound structure atonaler in the maximum points walk trembling from
the boxes. And then the Orgie of the noise disintegrates into wondrously
moved, excited harmonies implemented by filigranen refinement. The ensemble
sound swells off, after it made the ears free, let in into the world
of abstract sounds, far off the general commercial noise. And one reveals
Quality, which particularly is. It is a desire to listen to these musicians.
These clearly noted sounds, knarzigen, self-willed sounds, brittle tones,
melodischen idioms, those amazingly many style levels abklappern, without
obeying also only one style. New music finds here large area, sometimes
to radio and skirt and again and again the virtuos abstract language
of the free, modern jazz. Words cannot show that. Who has ears, which
hears. Which at variety and structure in this concept are to be heard,
is grandios. The projecting ability of the individual musicians into
the small and large groups is phaenomenal. And in some parts it seems
inconceivable that this clearly outlined, considered structure should
be improvisativ. It is, the interpreters is from astonishing inspiration.
The sounds on CD2 begin similarly. Again the first part
swells enormously on, constructs themselves largely and more largely,
tears and pulls with full, passionate ensemble sound at the conception
of harmony. And concretized and structures itself relaxed in various
way in the further process. The pieces are as from a casting, the transition
nearly insignificant, the energy do not set off not, in order to find
a new approach, but remain the entire minutes over existing, in a broad
sound language and style ignoring width, phaenomenal, because is not
easily conceivable. Simply beautifully to be always surprised without
the whole improvisation, which is complete interpretation of this conception
of harmony well-known structure or goes on paths already committed.
No trace! That is an adventure, to which one needs and with many experiences
is recompenced courage! There can be more beautiful?!
Nathan Hubbard "Skeleton Key Orchestra" (Circumvention Music)
Aptly titled; this feels like an orchestra made of animated bones making this arcane psychedelic big band free jazz sound that can narrow itself down to a two person conversation or a solo, only to swell to thirty five or more players all acting as one fluid and fluent organism. A double disc set of extended tracks; a couple well over half an hour in length. Wildly free jazz passages seamlessly bleed into formulated or purely telepathic sections of perfect harmony. This feels like a series of colorful sonic storms with Hubbard doing his percussion center around which multitudes of brass, woodwinds, bass, harps, pipe organ, cello, basses, strings, etc.all swirl intertwine and roll around and through. They can also elquently maintain a mood, as they do on the over fifteen minute melodic reverie entitled: "Sleeping Against Other Warnings (Limited Only By Our Dreams)" which opens onto an erotic female spoken word section. But, elsewhere they are more unbounded and expressive. There are even a few moments that recall "Red" era King Crimson, or a seasick Sun Ra Arkestra expelling extraterrestrial detritus. - George Parsons Dream Magazine #5 http://www.dreamgeo.com
|NATHAN HUBBARD Skeleton Key Orchestra Circumvention 039 A-B Perhaps it’s the number of music schools in California, the dissatisfaction musicians in the West have with regular commercial gigs they have, or a Left Coast insistence on group companionship, but the number of big – make it massive – bands extant seems to have grown exponentially there in recent years. Los Angeles-based multi-reedist Vinny Golia has one, drummer Adam Rudolph’s Organic Orchestra is another in the Bay area, and trumpeter Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet works out of Ventura – and there are others. Individually though, percussionist Nathan Hubbard’s San Diego-based Skeleton Key Orchestra (SKO), is unique in many respects. Most of the other aggregations are usually staffed by veteran pros and pretty Free Jazz-oriented. SKO, organized in 2001 by Hubbard, a member of the Trummerflora Collective, combines players of a number of San Diego’s creative music ensembles, most of whom have some association with the University of South California at San Diego. Building on the wide-ranging interests of these young performers, the eight compositions here reflect not only Free Jazz, Free Music and so-called contemporary serious music, but also electronics, environments and field recordings, text and voices and a patina of ethnic strains. That accounts for some frustration in the more than 2½ hours of music on this, SKO’s debut double-CD. With only eight tracks, the longest of which is slightly less than 36½ minutes, and the briefest [sic] slightly less than 11½ minutes, the tendency to pack too much into the compositions is rife. Featuring groupings ranging from nine to 27 pieces, SKO tries to excel, as its bumf puts it, in “surreal electronic landscapes, free-wheeling high-energy collective improvisations, meditative woodwind fugues, improvised street marches and minimalistic repetition”. Even Barry Guy’s decades long established London Jazz Composers’ Orchestra couldn’t do all that – and Guy didn’t try either. What’s encouraging about SKO is how well it and producer/composer/engineer/part-time conductor/field recordist Hubbard do first time out. Consider “A Murder of Crows” and “Raincastle”, which at 36:22 and 34:19 respectively each could have been single LPs in the 1960s. More derivative, the former’s exposition mixes swirling eddies of polyphonic horn lines, electronic loops and a flanged guitar line. It’s reminiscent of experiments involving Alan Silva’s Celestrial Communication Orchestra or Alexander von Schlippenbach’s Globe Unity Orchestra in the 1970s. Here the spit out, circumscribed or swelling lines are expressed so often and in such profusion, that outside of a certain undulating movement the outcome is nearly muddy and shapeless. Initial variations involve harsh interface between metallic textures and intermittent sawing strings, redirected and distorted with effects pedals. Following a near baroque string and horn interlude, only contorted, echoing guitar lines and a double-tongued, plunger exploration by trombonist Michael Dessen, in a half bop/half rock vein, prevent the sound from sliding into cop show soundtrack territory. Taped voices, funk licks and clanging ring modulator output make appearances along with short bursts of Aylerian reed squeaks and glottal punctuation, ringing guitar tones, laptop twists and fuzz-toned guitar licks. Soon a polytonal mix of marimba stings, hollow wood echoes, bell-ringing and drum rumbles are added from Hubbard and the four other percussionists. Eventually the repetitive resonation are reminiscent of those tunes on which Sun Ra gave every member of his Arkestra some percussion instrument. Stabilizing itself from a “Machine Gun”-like miasma, the reshaped theme simmers down to shakes, friction and rattles from hybrid trap kit, vibraphone, sampler and marimba, climaxing with offbeat rim shots and a final ride cymbal reverberation. Lacking the same sort of definite finale, the more original “Raincastle”, dribbles away at the end without reaching a climax. From the top the idea is to mix pre-recorded sounds of a real rain shower with looping electronic fuzz, zigzagging flute lines plus grace notes from the brass and a massed orchestral countermelody. After Harris Eisenstadt introduces the pitter-patter of marimba mallet tinctures, the transition involves a low-key but propulsive flat picking guitar fill from Al Scholl, prepared piano scrapes from Stephanie Robinson, legato soaring strings from the section and bright fluting from Lee Elderton. As thematic shards are tossed back and forth, boppish cymbal beats and hollow percussion echoes give way to a vamping reed section in double counterpoint with brassy horn embellishments, both of which are superseded by an unidentified soprano voice singing a folksy ditty. On top of roistering blasting trumpets, bass trombonist Alex Panos outlines a chromatic call to colors until three bassists divide a measured, tandem solo into sections that from one depends on slaps on ribs and belly of instrument, and another, harsh sul tasto lines figuratively cutting the bass in half. Before the unsatisfactory conclusion, guitarist Jon Garner picks out a pretty, light-fingered solo with ringing notes and impressive finger control. But divorced from any instrumental backing it sounds out of character, a divergence not a variation on the theme. Attempts at apocalyptic, Beat-influenced poetry read by Hubbard and Valley Girl/Lit major erotic verses voiced on another track, would probably have been better relegated to another outing, though the percussionist does evoke Albert Ayler’s name to set up a feature for nearly all the reed players. Ancillary disconnect appears as well, however when besides sax screams and accelerating polyphonic horn smears, the track adds irregular scratching loops and buzzing signals and climaxes with consolidated riffs that seem more in Ray Coniff’s than Sun Ra’s territory. Jay Easton’s subterranean exhortation on contrabass saxophone is the track’s saving grace however. Elsewhere multiple counterpoint among the horns can rang from Free Jazz to Swing in sections with slippery rhythm guitar work adding a Booker T and the MG’s funk melodiousness. This euphony also appears when the strings and woodwind tonal colors become almost recital-like pastoral. In contrast, another piece is partially built around a duet between sharp fiddle jettes and distorted, almost dirty, agitated guitar lines. The remainder has exciting broken octave work from bassists Joscha Oetz and Scott Walton, one slapping buzzy tremolos, the other exposing near shudders as he loosens the strings on the neck. Other echoes include processional trombone lines, undulating percussion tones and wavering reed tones that are reminiscent of the sort of Cool Jazz associated with 1950s’West Coast big bands. With all these colors, textures and ideas available from nearly 30 musicians, Hubbard may have attempted a bit too much on SKO’s debut. But considering what was accomplished here, judicious editing next time out may make the ensemble a group to be reckoned with far beyond the Western United States. -- Ken Waxman www.jazzweekly.com|
Jeremy Keens Ampersand Issue: ¬es 2004_13
Big bands are the watchword as Nathan Hubbard's Skeleton Key Orchestra arrives from Circumventions (www.circumventionmusic.com, 039A-B). Hubbard is a percussionist, appearing on various Trummerflora collective (also heard on Accretions) releases and a solo release (2003_c). Here he has put together varying groups of large size (from 11 to 29), many familiar names amongst the performers, for 8 pieces combining improv and composition. The variation is an attractive aspect of this album: wind (brass and wood) strings (violin, cello, bass, guitar) percussion piano organ and electronics in manifold combinations provide dramatic and exciting works. There is myriad detail in the notes, who is playing, who has the solos, and the music shifts through moods and methods. As with Kaiser, there are periods of big band playing - sometimes melodic, Zappaesque or improv wild - solos, duets and subgroups participating, as well as unusual instrumentation. For example, Is That You? is driven by the woodwinds, while the long Raincastle has a pastoral development, builds to a flute solo then band flow, flighty but guarded before chords and free running, bassy solo into guitar. The mood shifts are engrossing - PCO-like, carnivale percussion, a couple of spoken-poetic lyrics, almost classical in Making My Way, minimalistic as well as maximal pleasures. There are signs of post-production composition, with some sections fading into each other rather than necessarily flowing out of the improv - but that is not a complaint. What I really like about this is the variety expressed across the two disks: what may seem like an indulgence actually doesn't really have dead space or filler but is a powerful set of composed-improvisations.
Nathan Hubbard. Skeleton Key Orchestra. Circumvention Records, 2003.
Nathan Hubbard's new release on the San Diego-based
label Circumvention Records marks the culmination of years of effort
to bring the Skeleton Key Orchestra to fruition. The Orchestra made
it's debut in October, 2001 at San Diego State University and on KSDS
88.3 FM Jazz Live, as a 22-member improvising ensemble featuring many
of San Diego's finest young improvisers and members of many of the
active improvising ensembles at the time, including Cosmologic, Return
to One, the Christopher Adler Trio and the Trummerflora Collective.
The two large compositions featured on the debut concert, Raincastle and A Murder of Crows, are on this new recording, though significantly
reworked and improved.
Finally, I must point out that Hubbard's skills as a drummer and percussionist are fortunately much in evidence throughout the recording, whether holding down an excessively regular but very groovy 37/16 in A Murder of Crows, or flying at top speed in Next Love (All Things Want to Fly). In addition to Elderton's solo in Raincastle, other striking moments than should not go without mention are Isaac Tubb's solo and Ward Baxter's solo with electronics in East on 53rd Street, the roaring opening of A Murder of Crows. -Christopher Adler San Diego New Music Newsletter
San Diego Union-Tribune December 30th 2004 By George Varga POP MUSIC CRITIC
THE OTHER STREAM
10. "Skeleton Key Orchestra," Nathan Hubbard
|NH SKO is perhaps the most definitive recording i've made of my percussion playing, with me covering many different roles and instruments. A large portion of the recording has me playing kit, generally the red Tama kit with the normal junk (see below). I played a larger "rock kit" (mostly daves Yamaha kit) for the trombone solo in a murder of crows and my smaller solo setup for the ending percussion trio of a murder of crows. Several pieces have overdubbed percussion, mostly congas (is that you..., east on 53rd st.) and frame drums (sleeping against other warnings). In addition to Jon Szantos mallet playing (marimba, vibes and glockenspiel) on the record, i overdubbed quite a bit of mallets - vibes on raincastle, sleeping and don't look says the crow, marimba on raincastle, a murder of crows and don't look, and glockenspiel and chimes on a murder. I got the chance to play duo drums with several people on this record - Harris Eisenstadt played drumkit (and marimba) on several tracks (raincastle, don't look) and James Burton played kit on next love. Curtis Glatter, James Burton and Marcos Fernandes also added percussion to several tracks. Use of electronics varies, from the drum machines on East on 53rd Street to frame and sampler on a murder of crows, old gig tapes and phonographies on raincastle to processing and dub mixing thru-out the record. Finally, the use of my homemade instruments rounds out the record, with pipephones used in sleeping and the dopplerophone orchestra at the end of don't look says the crow. The entire thing was recorded to my Mac G4, i also mixed and edited the recording and Steve Langdon mastered it. After much searching, i found the key hole for the cover, Ward Baxter did the layout and Karen Hubbard, Kelly Lancaster, Marcos Fernandes, Jason Hubbard and Melonie Sacalamitao took pictures.|