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Ping Pong Pang — Ping Pong Pang
(Bandcamp Right Brain Records, 2022, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-03-17

Ping Pong Pang Cover art

If you heard Ping Pong Pang without knowing anything about it, you might well assume that the music was made by a standing group of three multi-instrumentalists. The pieces are unusual, spanning a wide range of sounds, but you might not guess that it’s actually a completely improvised set. The players are Amy Denio (woodwinds, accordion, vocals), James Hoskins (cello, gadulka, bouzouki), and Kai Strandskov (hand drums, percussion). Denio should need no introduction here — we’ve covered a couple dozen of her recordings at least — but the other names are perhaps less familiar. Hoskins has a very diverse resume, running from Mötorhead and Lemmy to Dave Willey and New Age singer-songwriter Adey Bell; Strandskov is in a group called Love and Fury, but I know nothing about them. In any case, the three convened in a Seattle studio and came up with this set of ten pieces. My favorite is probably the opener, “The Wheels Turn,” which sounds like a jazzy interpretation of a Balkan folk tune. Denio’s sax provides catchy melodic phrases while Hoskins’ cello provides both counterpoint and a bass framework; Strandskov’s hand drums percolate energetically. The track is a lot of fun, and the more impressive knowing it wasn’t composed in advance. The album’s title track comes next, starting to hint at the group’s range. I’m pretty sure Hoskins is on the gadulka here — it’s a Bulgarian instrument a bit like a small cello, bowed but with sympathetic strings as well — and Denio provides bursts of clarinet notes and vocal interjections. Strandskov mostly works with a triangle, wringing all sorts of different sounds out of it. The result is chaotic and fascinating. “On the Dots” features clarinet and bouzouki with tambourine or riq, and sounds like it could be a late night jam in a Greek taverna. “Piercing the Veil” brings the accordion on board, providing eerie clusters of notes that fade in and out while bells tinkle and the cello wanders mournfully. The other tracks present these various elements in different combinations, providing a spectrum of sound that manages both variety and coherence. Ping Pong Pang is a stellar example of when improvisation works and is quite enjoyable even on repeated listens.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): Amy Denio, Ping Pong Pang

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