Tuesday, January 6, 2009

David Winogrond-Pictures at an Existentialism

What do you do when you've played drums in the bands of two very important underground guitarists/band leaders? In the case of David Winogrond, you bravely strike it out on your own and begin an entirely new aspect of your career. Pictures at an Existentialism is the opening salvo in David's next drumming phase, that phase being one of a distinct instrumental/Jazz approach.
Released in 2007 on the L.A.-based Wondercap Records, Pictures is an imaginatively conceived and remarkably played recording, full of great, interactive playing and improvising. For much of the album, Winogrond leads a primarily bass-less trio of drums, woodwinds, sparse electronics, and piano through highly charged, intuitive group interaction. The listener is treated to the sounds of musicians really playing together. As the trio tunes wind their way through several different modes per song, the simpatico between pianist Arlan Schierbaum and Winogrond becomes very clear. Closer listening reveals piano and drums conversing and riffing off of each other for seconds, sometimes even minutes on end. In music this is no mean feat; on tunes like Swans Reflecting Elephants and Dusk in Amber, David and Arlan pull it off wonderfully many times over. Schierbaum's playing is generally cool and melodic, despite hinting at a more Avant-Garde influence. To my ears his style echoes the cooler, post-Free European aspects as much as the generally grittier American approach to Jazz piano playing. His sparse use of electronic coloration also provides the occasional surprise within the primarily acoustic setting. Winogrond's drumming on the trio tunes is all free flow. This is not to say he bashes around the kit, for he does not. David uses the drum kit melodically, providing an important voice for the tunes, by way of the drums. His brush playing is particularly great, an advancement of the free-brush techniques pioneered by Paul Motian in the classic bands of Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Reedsman Jack Chandler plays with both emotion and control throughout. Echoes of Dewey Redman and Jan Garbarek can be heard in his playing, but when he drops a few delightfully unexpected verses of great Charlie Parker tunes such as Salt Peanuts into Hard Night in Reseda II (Allegro), you know he's got deep grounding in the Jazz tradition.
Speaking of tradition, David's choice of including a hard charging, revved-up version of the Big Band classic Sing, Sing, Sing adds further proof of the fact that he's a legitimate Jazz artist. This great Louis Prima tune is given great, rockin' treatment, with bass added by Bruce Wagner. Winogrond gets the classic Gene Krupa cowbell and tom tom riffs down perfectly as the band plays by turns subtle and raunchy around him.
Closing out the record are two more great pieces, Sunset Blvd. Blues and Imhotep. The former, dedicated to "all the lost souls in Hollywood, past and present," features guest trombonist John "Rabbit" Ritchie, who does some Jimmy Knepper styled 'bone bleating. The tune divides nicely into several different episodes, conjuring up visions of various characters who have or may still wander the streets of Hollywoodland. The latter would be a treat even for those without an ear of Jazz, as it features not one, but two Rock greats, Davie Allan on guitar and DJ Bonebrake on vibes. Anything that Allan plays on is going to have some weight, and Imhotep is no exception. After a brief piano/vibes duet, the tune launches into Punk/Funk/Fusion territory that would match anything offered up by Shannon Jackson or Sonny Sharrock. Aside from being just downright intriguing to hear Allan within a Jazz context, his sound is kick-ass, of course. DJ's vibes match him. Both men are skilled, obviously, and their addition on Imhotep makes for compelling listening.
In terms of production and engineering, Pictures at an Existentialism features a dry, close-mic'd sound. It's air has the feel of 1970's ECM recordings, with plenty of legato and spacey echo. Winogrond benefits in particular from this method, as all of his drum and cymbal strokes are clearly defined within the mix. It is, after all, his record.
Pictures at an Existentialism is a great start to what should be an exciting career transition for David Winogrond. The man has ambition to go along with his prodigious musical talent. As he continues into his fifth decade of drumming, he continues to inspire and amaze. Jazz stations such as KCSM in San Mateo still do weekly charts, and if there is justice left in this world, Pictures would appear there.

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