The Middletown Three,
Nine Compositions
(Newsonic, 1998)

It's a very spikey sound-world indeed from the three members of the Middletown Creative Orchestra. As with close relation CCM4, which also features Seth Misterka, composition and improvisation both have roles to play, and the end result is something perfectly idiosyncratic.

Misterka and Jackson Moore take similar routes with the saxophone: a gestural, wild and very vocalised style which tends to be extremely loud and not terribly subtle. There are more melodic moments here, and more timbrally sensitive ones, but generally this duo is about brute force, putting their money into sheer red-faced yelling as a source of energy, particularly in the improvised sections. It works, if you like that sort of thing. At their most excitable, the pair can just sound like they're trying too hard, but when the heat is turned down a little their scrappy frog-chorus produces some nice moments. These are pretty good listeners trapped in a style which is so atavistic as to preclude real interaction.

Not that this is free jazz, anyway; although a jazz influence is clearly discernable, these pieces have far more in common with contemporary composition and even rock. Yet that distant, chilly quality which they share with the Remote Viewers in the UK is something different, something deriving perhaps from electronic music. The desire seems to be to play with timbral complexity without allowing these extended techniques to become expressive. Even the vocalised wails of the reeds stand oddly alone, abstract gestures rather than references to the human voice.

Jonathan Zorn's contribution is far more valuable than a third saxophonist's would have been. His bass lends variety and even a certain levity to the proceedings, and often a sense of order, too. When the horns are waffling and squealing together, one can sometimes discern a slow, careful texture being drawn beneath by Zorn's bow. It's a great help. Those curious about his playing style, however, would be better advised to check out his solo album, since here he gets precious little space.

This is certainly an uncomfortable listen, and perhaps that's a point in its favour. Many of the compositions are interesting, and in some cases ("Arbutus," for example) the arrangements are imaginative, too. Misterka and Moore share enough common ground to bounce off one another successfully, but the overall effect is ascerbic in the extreme with little to offset its awkwardness. Only for those who know they like this sort of thing.

[ by Richard Cochrane ]
Rambles: 7 June 2002