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Clint Bahr — Puzzlebox
(Moonjune MJR121, 2022, CD / DL)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2022-07-01

Puzzlebox Cover art

My first encounter with Clint Bahr was almost twenty years ago in the lobby at Baja Prog; before their set he was bragging that his trio, Tripod, would be the loudest band that ever played at Baja. Less than halfway through their set I found myself back in the lobby among a group of friends, sporting a headache from the sheer volume and in full agreement with what Mr. Bahr had said. A considerable amount of time has passed since that Baja performance, and in the interim it seems that Bahr has come to the realization that louder is not always better. To be sure, Bahr’s latest Puzzlebox does contain some noisy, heavy rock sounds, but it also contains far more than that, wandering through jazz improv and other explorative sounds with a variety of guest players including David Cross, Colin Carter, Marilyn Crispell, David Jackson, Jeff Schiller, the late Peter Banks (a sure indicator that this album was many years in the making), plus numerous others. For his part, Bahr composed all of the tracks (with the exception of the three improv pieces), wrote the lyrics, sings, and played all manner of basses (4, 8, and 12 string), plus bass pedals, Chapman stick, acoustic guitar, tambura, harmonium, keyboards, Mellotron, percussion, and more. Seems that besides a drum kit, the odd guitar solo, violin, brass and woodwinds, Bahr could have played almost everything here. Drummer Billy Ficca (Television) features on several of the cuts, and Mike Hough (ex-Flash) on others. The set opens and closes with the two-part instrumental “Tabula Rasa” featuring Bahr on tamboura, Dan Parkington on sitar, and David Jackson (Van der Graaf Generator) on flute (Part 1) and David Cross (King Crimson) on violin on Part 2. Very nice, indeed, with the opener setting the stage for the heavy vocal number “New Design” that follows. Something that sounds like a Fripp-less Crimson – Van der Graaf mash up with a full wind section all played by Schiller. The three improvisations are “Plate,” “As Tympani Melt in the Greek Heat” and “Triangles, Circles and Squares,” the first two featuring Bahr, Hough, Dick Griffin (trombone), and Marilyn Crispell (piano), the second adds David Jackson (winds) for almost eleven minutes, and the third is the trio of Bahr, David Cross (violins), and Schiller on bass clarinet, over and done in a mere two minutes; the three improvs all embrace a free-jazz sound to one degree or another. Other standouts include “Lifeguard in the Rain,” a gentle tune featuring Bahr on vocals, acoustic guitar, bass, and harmonium, with Schiller on oboe, and “Kicking the Wasps Nests,” a brutally heavy rocker featuring Ficca at the kit, Schiller on saxes, a guitar solo by Peter Banks (RIP) and Bahr singing and playing everything else. Puzzlebox is nothing short of a masterful collection of engaging and diverse tunes.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): David Cross, Peter Banks, David Jackson, Marilyn Crispell, Clint Bahr

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