While ostensibly fulfilling “supergroup” criteria, their slightly introverted and peculiar collective demeanour demands a more humble tag. Operating from a decidedly jazz foundation, the group’s skewed tunefulness and textural whimsy recall Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, or Eric Dolphy.
An all-star team of Toronto new-generation improvisors – sophisticated new music with a sense of wobbly fun, big-band-through-the-looking-glass (yet in a different, far less nostalgic way than Carla Bley or, say, Willem Breuker)… a Toronto improv supergroup.
– Carl Wilson, Zoilus.com
Eminently quirky […] Drumheller’s music is both grandly swinging and bizarre at turns. […] as striking, iconoclastic and superb as any group pushing the boundaries of jazz and improvised music today.
– Matthew Sumera, All About Jazz
The Natural Playmate, apparently the final release in the Rat-Drifting catalogue, is a series of extremely concise and focused improvisations performed by Eric Chenaux (guitar) and Jason Benoit (banjo). The familiar misshapen melancholy found on many Rat-Drifting albums runs through this entire disc, yet amidst this sticky tremble and slouch there is an extremely refined and intimate counterpoint between Benoit and Chenaux. Meandering narrowly within tight bounds, each piece is very distinct, coming off more as beautifully-executed-but-mostly-forgotten folk tunes than as capital-C Creative Music.
THE ALLISON CAMERON BAND
The six pieces here stand at the intersection of Cameron’s particular brand of unhurried “small-m” minimalism, the resonances and modal language of folk music, and loose dry textural improvisation practiced among her and her peers. Her band, in which she works with two adept improviser-composers, Stephen Parkinson and Eric Chenaux, permits her to realize the concerns of composition and improvisational work simultaneously. Applied to a core instrumentation of banjo, guitars, and harmonicas, her lean interlocking melodic ideas and sophisticated, decidedly leisurely rhythmic figurations, are inflected with the timbral palette of her improvisations.
The Reveries sing and play standards – from Cole Porter to Nick Cave. They call what they do sweet jazz. It is, but in an altered state precipitating an altered state. This would be hallucinogenic music if hallucinations were real (there are no illusions at work here). This figures – in any setting, all three are insidiously mind-bending musicians. Here, startlingly idiosyncratic guitar playing merges with sweet vocal harmonies and the strange virtuosity they bring to playing a number of fragile and ungainly instruments: the nose flute, the bowed saw, the thumb reeds (strips of balloon rubber stretched between the thumbs and blown in a way one would a blade of grass), and the quasi-ruler bass (a strip of metal held on a table with one hand and plucked with the other, as one would pluck a ruler while holding one end tight to a desk). But the real engines of the waking dream that is the Reveries’ music are the mouth speakers. These are small speakers, taken from the earpieces of cellular phones, hung inside their mouths. Every instrument has a contact microphone on it. So, for example, Eric's guitar can be heard coming out of the speaker in Doug's mouth, Doug's guitar or saw can be heard coming out of the speaker in Ryan's mouth, and anything Ryan does with his mouth can be heard coming out of the speaker in Eric's mouth. Because each Reverie is always using his mouth (either to sing or play an instrument), the speaker signal is filtered in a wild array of wah-wah effects caused by the changing shape of their mouth cavity (it recalls Sly Stone using a talk box; or yah, ok, it might remind one of Peter Frampton as well…). The sound of their singing is further distorted by the fact that they have waterproof audio cable (attached to the speaker) hanging out of the sides of their mouths. The effect of this is that their singing is reminiscent, both in the way it sounds and looks (drool and all), of someone trying to talk with a dentist's irrigation tube hanging out of his mouth. All of these activities are picked up by air microphones and amplified through a small home stereo. The Reveries' music is incredibly strange/unknowably wonderful. It is dreamy and caustic at the same time. The viscerality of the tasks they set themselves and the labour intensity these exude is especially disorienting given the mellow, lymphatic slackness of the music's flow. Experiencing it is like encountering delicate ultra-lounge psychedelia picked up from afar on a static-ridden short-wave radio. This isn’t a piss-take. There is no smart-ass cynicism or parody in sight. They are not mimicking the representational incongruities of a dream-thought. They’re exerting the dream-work on their songs – the distortions are operating on the deep, pre-symbolic guts of the music. The Reveries make music that’s a reverie – an absent-minded daydream; but it might be worth knowing that “reverie” is derived from the old-French word for wildness. There’s nothing tame or civilized going on here.
The Reveries remodel songs, songs “consumed” by time, re-finding and expanding them with unique instrumentation.
Time is a theme to explore, into which one must enter in order to transform. Removing or placing veils, magic filters; making micro and macro, using lenses to see the past again, first appearing very distant, then coming closer with a different dimension. We encounter story and style for a moment entering that olden time for a convinced salute, then returning into a space that is taking form.
Think of a song, stop it in time, caress it, observe it and play it — discovering how it speaks. The error mysteriously disappears; almost everything seems possible. The important thing is to believe it, to have a vision and respect it, between reality and illusion, depending.
Form stops when it is consumed. To sculpt into a song to find a new form is an answer to necessary movement. (”A form that thinks, a thought that forms.”)
A meditation on form, ironed, dilated, almost a long alap.
Inside a chamber atmosphere, we ask ourselves where we are. It is dreamtime. It is all so tragically romantic, looking at the moon, remembering a raga.
Rich of weak strength, delicate.
– Massimo Simonini, Angelica Festival, Bologna
Just how home-made and exotic the Rat-drifting musical family can get becomes apparent on the latest episode, Blasé Kisses, by The Reveries, the same musicians heard earlier as The Draperies. However, Driver and Tielli have dropped synth and brass in favor of “mouth-mikes” (literally-waterproof cellphone components in the singers’mouths) and other assorted instruments, and the free improvisation has given way to very odd vocal renditions of standards like “My Reverie” and “Moonlight in Vermont.” The latter sounds like aliens have landed on the shores of Lake Champlain only to launch a campfire sing-along, some joining in from beneath the waves. An almost crazily playful form of disarticulation, it creates a dream state around familiar texts. It may be heard as an elaborate joke about the current state of jazz singing and repertoire (it’s such a treat to hear singers doing something different with this material), but it has a weird ambience all it’s own.
– Stuart Broomer, Coda Magazine