Peter Kerlin Octet’s ‘Salamander’ provides musical noir for jazz set
“I like the magical, like, mythological imagery that has to do with nature. How that kind of is in us, and how that language we still use it to figure out the world, even in a world when we’re very divorced from nature.”
In the third major abstract of Peter Kerlin Octet’s Salamander, the sound of rain ushers in a dark, twisted “Cenozoan Warp.” It’s straight out of one of those foreign films at SIFF — all mincing, classical vibes and violas rushing up against a thrashing, tangled percussive line by the mad genius of Mike Pride and Charles Burst.
Not surprisingly, Kerlin’s well-versed in designing video, soundtracks (The Rooms-2010, Cenozoan Warp-2011, Between Scans-2008), and dance — under the radar. The seven-minute-16-second soundtrack of ominous intention colors the rest of this five-track EP, released November 19, 2013 on Innova Recordings.
Kerlin wrote all of the songs billed as “Music for the nostalgic reptile.” The Brooklyn instructor and videographer plays bass on the EP, along with his friends who make up his octet: bassists Taylor Bergren-Chrisman, Brent Cordero; vibraphonists Sam Sowyrda, Cesare Papetti; viola players Amy Cimini, Jessica Pavone, Karen Waltuch; organist Emily Manzo; and percussionists Mike Pride, Charles Burst.
Together, they build an almost impossible beast in nagging, cryptic phonetic tugs. The beats are purposely off-kilter. The various instruments come at each other, rather than in composed harmony. Nothing is pretty or uplifting; but the nostalgic reptile demands individual settlements prior to the clashes that become the unsettling music.
The effect is similar to sitting quietly trying to enjoy the solitude and beauty of nature while insects crawl about. “Ballad Of The Bewildered Herd” strains with the tension of metals and dropped, fibrous matter as nature collapses under the weight of the man-made tools of civilization. In this, as on other Kerlin compositions, nobody in the octet is trying to rise above the ruins. The vibraphonists continue placating the pretty, while the violaists strain against such a common reverie, delivering the only real rise in temperature, conflict, dislocating interest. Although, around the 8:40 mark, they do a bang-up job reaching back toward the dinosaur period in yawning magmatic echoes.
The first song on the EP breaks away from the introverted, frustrated monstrously monastic state. “Bulbs” fairly rockets along on a percussive-bass, almost — dare we say — happily. The vibes are happy to throw in on that bandwagon before the violas bring the whole circus down. A drumbeat march around 3:38 reminds one and all that this is reptilian music, devoid of warm, summer days on sitcom endings.
“Snake Eats Electric Blanket” could’ve been from the same film as “Cenozoan Warp.” The cloned monotone of the well-timed, inhuman bath of mallet on bar, with the computerized reproduction, is almost maddeningly unresponsive. The slow control of the nihilistic beats led by Kerlin on bass, weighed down by the reminder of machine-generated digitized congestion, puts pressure on any enlightened resolve. The music, in the end, focuses on things rather than people or — to the point — their spiritual salvation.
By the time “Wanna Let The Bell-Tower Ring” does a spy thriller cascade and dance, it’s too late. The tyranny of the bells cannot mask the inanimate objects stultifying depression.
Peter Kerlin’s past bands — Christmas Decorations, The Holy Childhood, Solar Motel Band, Christy & Emily, Paranoid Cat Band, Source of Yellow — may glimpse into his favoritism of dark, heavy matter.
But on a cold, gloomy never-ending Autumn, sitting in that black pit for hours isn’t much of a good time — however affecting.
Review first appeared in Examiner Oct. 13, 2014.