Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Tryon — Freaky Squash Baby
(Double Moon Records DMCHR71415, 2023, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2023-08-24
For the second Tryon release, composer Kellen Mills has further refined and expanded the scope of his work from Läuterung. Freaky Squash Baby features a large ensemble, most of whom are new this time out; only Mills himself (bass, synthesizer), Rieko Okuda (piano), Jacopo Bazzarri (tubular bells, glockenspiel), and Erik Leuthäuser (vocals) return. The lead vocals for this set of pieces are handled by Kiki Manders, with Leuthäuser and Mirna Bogdanovic taking on the backing parts. Joining Mills in the rhythm section are Antti Virtaranta (double bass), Jasper Stadhouders (guitar), and two drummers, Martial Frenzel and Oli Steidle. The arrangements are filled out by a substantial woodwind section of various saxes, clarinets, and flutes (Dovydas Stalmokas, Edith Steyer, Grgur Savic, Karen Ng, Philipp Gropper, and Tilmann Dehnhard) along with electronics from Eliad Wagner and marimba from Taiko Saito (whose solo album we recently reviewed). The primary thing to know about how this large group functions is that some of the music is elaborately arranged with complex interactions between the parts very much in the mode of such 20th Century composers as Stravinsky, Schönberg, Bartók, and so on, but informed by a significant dose of Frank Zappa’s more expansive work. But there is a significant element of improvisation as well, and Mills has selected his cohorts for their ability to straddle both sides of the dichotomy: “There are so many great musicians in Berlin who have crossover potential and can play my stuff.” It’s hard to single out any of the performances in such a coherent body of work, but Manders is impressive on the challenging melodies, and Saito’s marimba is flashy and nimble, playing the role Ruth Underwood did in Zappa’s early 70s groups. The interlocking vocal polyphony is especially tasty, translating Gentle Giant into a very different context. I won’t say that Tryon makes complex music accessible, but they certainly make it fun. There’s a sense of wonder and discovery throughout the album, and anyone who enjoys music that takes chances and has no interest in genre boundaries should find a wealth of enjoyment with this Freaky Squash Baby.
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