by carl wilson

DRUM-HELL-YA!

eric-chenaux.jpg
Eric Chenaux (upper left corner & elsewhere) of Drumheller, and Martin Arnold, not of Drumheller. See below. Photo montage by the always wonderful Aperture Enzyme.

My only contribution to The Globe this week is this review of the just-out-of-the-oven debut by "out-of-jazz" quintet Drumheller, on Rat-drifting, whose launch concert tomorrow night at the Tranzac is the (non-Caribana) gig of the weekend. A couple of notes on the review. First, the paper version is misprinted, changing the very first sentence from "Toronto's creative-improv scene, from free jazz to abstract electronics...." to "Toronto's creative-improv electronics..." This is wrong. Second, to throw back the editing-room door, I originally didn't just call Eric Chenaux "an egregiously overlooked musician" but "perhaps the most egregiously overlooked musician in town."

[tangent]Egregiously, peoples! Why are you sleeping on Eric Chenaux, why why? Sure, his once-upon-a-time art-punk bands Phleg Camp and Life Like Weeds still get some loving memory (scroll down to the final question there), but that is so the past. He's reinvented himself as a post-Derek-Bailey-sidelong-glancing-to-John-Fahey improviser, which I know sounds like a dimestore cage but in this case just isn't, because he's got that spooky ability to make asymmetry symmetrical and dissonance sing under his spider-web fingers. Eric's now-sadly-defunct duo with Michell McAdorey (with whom he played for awhile in Crash Vegas too) yielded two of the most gorgeous recordolas in all Torontopia, last year's Love Don't Change and the way-back Whirl (note: that was a secret passageway). Meanwhile his re-funked newer duo with Martin Arnold is a marvel of mini-maximalist guitar-banjo wobble that amounts to a much more intense interpretation of the whole idea of "psych-folk" than any of the fashionable sets flying that flag, tho they were at it before then and will continue thereafter, hopefully with some overdub-drenched cerebellum-sludge albums to mark their route. And that is not to mention his hundred other projects, including Rat-drifting itself (also with Martin Arnold). Or the fact that he keeps writing these beautiful ballads that I can never believe are new songs and not some traditional classic or legendary lost Gordon Lightfoot song rewritten by Syd Barrett. [/tangent]

Not to underrate the rest of Drumheller, Rob Clutton, Nick Fraser, Doug Tielli and Brodie West, each with their strengths and endearing flaws. (Also: They all compose, and they all improvise, and the band walks the drunken late-night cop-car-pulled-them-over line between the two.) The other part cut from today's review is this final, not entirely happy line:

"Unfortunately, West is moving to Amsterdam this fall, but the band plans to carry on; with luck it will have the chance to grow into an institution you can point out proudly when youre asked what Toronto improv is all about."

To expand on that, I know the rest of the Drumhellers (formerly known, by the way, as Bourbon Leaves) plan to visit West in Holland and gig there, which is exciting, but I both selfishly and community-mindedly want the band to continue developing as a local entity too, which I think may require a new recruit. My most constructive suggestion is that the stand-in wouldn't have to be a saxophonist - maybe a violinist or cellist? - so that West could stay a member and the band could morph between five- and six-person ensemble strength. This is one of the curses of Toronto - far too often, the brightest little dynamos are too damn eager to go somewhere else. .... But seriously, all the best Zoilus wishes to Brodie as he goes double-Dutch - I'm sure you'll do well there, since you've already got Han Bennink's endorsement.

Again, that's Drumheller, Sat. night at the Tranzac, 10 pm, playing their own compositions along with those of fellow Rat-drifter Josh Thorpe. If you need further convincing, what are you, made of STONE? All right, there are also gung-ho reviews this week in eye and NOW.

McAdorey plays refreshing musical hooky

CARL WILSON
SCENE
The Globe and Mail
17 March 2000

The blueprint is there, in the safety-deposit box of Canadian dreams, ready to be rolled out on any dressing-room table and consulted. Reporters keep a copy to check against the latest news from Billboard, talk-show guest lists, Juno and Grammy rosters. It's how you build a pop career here -- whether indie-band, radio-band or dance-band -- and most artists would no more throw it away than they would discard chord charts and catchy melodies.

But Michelle McAdorey and Eric Chenaux burned the blueprints years ago. Not that they are unfamiliar with such charts of progress. McAdorey had a quiet fame with her band Crash Vegas, a major-label concern before its eight-year life span ended in 1996, while Chenaux was a buzzed-about guitar-slasher in punk bands Phleg Camp and Life Like Weeds in the early nineties.

Indeed, McAdorey, a black-haired, Irish-eyed beauty, is someone people have been trying to recruit to stardom ever since Midge Ure produced her teenage group's 1982 dance-pop single in England. She played the 1996 prototype of Lilith Fair, and if she chose, easily could be in the front ranks of today's brigade of northern pop sirens.

But both their heads were turned by sounds from outside, and they left through the hole in the fence. In fact, the aesthetic of playing hooky - as plumbed in McAdorey's "camping, riding freight trains, house-painting," and Chenaux's involvement in experimental improvisation - is integral to the sound of Whirl, the CD they're launching this weekend in Montreal and next Thursday in Toronto.

While the disc is under McAdorey's name, it is a collaboration the two have been developing for the past couple of years - while Chenaux also released More Remote than the Puma, a disc of solo guitar improvisations, and helped organize the ongoing Ulterior improv series at the Victory Cafe in Toronto.

McAdorey's contemplative songs and intense, intimate voice (often compared lately to U.S. cult artist Cat Power) are the project's core. But they're meshed and mixed with Chenaux's "fragile" bowed and plucked guitar, slippery rhythms and discords.

While it's not improvisation, says Chenaux, "There is a certain looseness, and there's a certain place the instruments sit, so they aren't gigantic, the voices don't overpronounce themselves." The style is not so much of singer and accompanist but of an ensemble sketching a song as it's played.

"It was a search while we were recording," says McAdorey. "It's a weaving of texture, so that it isn't delineated - 'here's a solo and here's a bass and a drum' - there was an idea to lose a lot of that. I mean, there's no bass at all. Things just move in and out of each other."

That quest took about a year, at various studios around Toronto. "After a lot of struggle and heartbreak," McAdorey says, "we realized we knew just where to go. And then it became so thrilling."

"I think our next record will take about a day," adds Chenaux, only half-joking. "Any longer is just too damn long."

Instead of a blueprinted solo "comeback," in fact, the project has now become a trio, with composer Martin Arnold joining on hurdy-gurdy, melodica and guitar. "We're just trying to think of a band name," McAdorey says, sounding a bit surprised. Already, the group has leapt beyond the sound of the record.

"Duo music has a certain ambience and focus," says Chenaux, "but with a trio things can get loose and wonky -- and Martin has this unbelievable ability to play the most beautiful wonky material imaginable."

What they don't know is who, beyond their many musical friends, their audience will be. Toronto is not Chicago, where avant-gardists partner with indie-rockers routinely. But Chenaux is hopeful. "There's a new emphasis on playing in this city, and widening the different types of music people are into. It doesn't all become one gloopy mess, but borders are stretching. It makes for an interesting audience, and interesting music."

Read More | On Record | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 29 at 11:55 AM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson