Hans Fjellestad - "Red Sauce Baby" (Accretions 2000, ALP019)
Donkey - "Show" (Accretions 2000, ALP020)
From Aural Innovations #16 (June 2001)
Hans Fjellestad is a composer and improvisational keyboardist from California. On Red Sauce Baby, Fjellestad includes composed and improvisational pieces, playing solo piano works, piano duets, and full ensemble tracks. Donkey is a duo project consisting of Fjellestad and guitarist Damon Holzborn, who also guests on Red Sauce Baby. Both are founding members of Trummerflora, a collective of musicians dedicated to experimental and improvisational music, and host the Zu Casa web site. Zu Casa, in particular, is a phenomenal web site, full of information and full length CDs available to listen to in RealAudio, including the two reviewed here.
Several of the tracks on Hans Fjellestad's Red Sauce Baby are focused on the piano. "Slow Motion Perp Walk" is a solo piece with Fjellestad on piano, ambient recordings, and electronics. There's a narration that gives the music an urban film noir feel, the sounds of the city surrounded by atmospherics and light jazzy piano bits. "Gadfly Principle" is another solo with Fjellestad on prepared piano. A somewhat theatrical piece, it combines standard piano with a variety of other sounds, many percussive. Both the ivories and the inner workings of the piano are attacked, raked, and played, to produce a quirky, but intense composition that runs a gamut of emotions while displaying impressive instrumental proficiency. "Three Sockets" made me think of Gershwin performing in a dark, freaked out cabaret. And "Zoonomia I & II" are two piano duos with Fjellestad and Dana Reason. Enjoyable but not among the more exciting tracks on the album.
Overall, though, it was the tracks with a larger cast of musicians that turned me on the most. "Free Throw Prophet" includes a full band with church organ, woodwinds, bagpipes, and percussion. Hearing the traditional Scottish bagpipes abruptly followed by the free-wheeling sonic jazz of the woodwinds and percussion is a jarring experience. At times I'm reminded of the Sun Ra Arkestra at its most freeform, while at others it's an experimental jazz carnival freakout. A beautiful track. "Pulp451" consists of accordion, percussion, synths, electronics, and trombone, united for a free-for-all workout of mostly dancing strings and electronic patterns that range from radio wave sounds to subtle ambient drones. A spoken word monolog in Danish and part chanting, part whining female voice accompany. An interesting effort but it didn't really hold my attention throughout. Finally, "Uncouth Vermouth" is my favorite track on the album, with Fjellestad on organ, his partner in Donkey, Damon Holzborn, on electric guitar, plus clarinet and saxophone. Get down and dig the wailing, blazing free-jazz horns, freakout organ á la Sun Ra, and frenetic guitar runs. The track runs through a number of distinct themes, but in all it's 9 minutes of killer experimental rockin' free-jazz. LOVE that organ!
Donkey consists of Hans Fjellestad on keyboards and electronics and Damon Holzborn on guitars and electronics, with guests on clarinet, violin, turntables, and electronics. The promo sheet describes Donkey as an electroacoustic improvisation duo exploring the territory between open form and structured improvisation and noise art, and Show is a collection of live performances. What struck me after a few listens was how electronic space, noise, jazz, and avant-rock meet across these tracks at a crossroads that defies easy labels and genres.
Tracks like "Dziggetai", Oddities From The Bridge", and "Single Hitch Pleasure Ride" are sonic roller coaster rides into an electronic noise realm with pulsating and rumbling waves, tones, and drones. Oddities has some wonderfully bizarre space electronics, and Single Hitch incorporates bits of Blues and has lots of slam-bang percussion. For "Piso Mojado" the duo are joined by clarinet for a freeform avant jazz jam. Clarinet and guitar duel with one another, backed by ocean wave electronics and drones. Whimsically freaky, but beautifully executed, the music demands the listener's attention, yet the reward is a strangely lulling experience. "Clementine" is an interesting track that straddles the line between avant garde jazz, Rock In Opposition experimentalism, and space electronics. Easily my favorite track is "Salon", an INTENSE orchestrated electro freakout! Tension builds quickly and kept me bug-eyed and white knuckled as I clutched my seat throughout. This would make a great soundtrack to an avant-garde mystery flick. It starts with the scene where the poor girl is running like hell from the killer. But things soon settle into a dark, eerie, melodramatic segment in which the mystery evolves into horror and suspense. Just beautiful. "Barrel Filler" is a similarly dark and intense orchestral piece. Like a full orchestra Kronos Quartet.
In summary, it's clear from these two recordings that both Fjellestad and Holzborn have varied interests, and perusing the web sites below I see they have numerous releases available. Red Sauce Baby had a lot of variety and the strong tracks were impressive, though there were others that didn't excite me much. Donkey might be the best place for Aural Innovations readers to start, especially if you're into experimental electronics.
For more information you can visit the Accretions web site at: http://www.accretions.com.
Hear these CDs in their entirety at the Zu Casa web site at: http://www.zucasa.com/.
For even more information on these and other related artists you can visit the Trummerflora web site at: http://www.trummerflora.com/.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz