I remember correctly, it was about ten years ago that a friend of mine
told me about a CD called Caveman Hughscore: a curious title for what
proved to be a successful studio collaboration between Hugh Hopper (the
English musician whose highly personal style has always been apparent
both on electric bass - an instrument of which he is considered to be
one of the most influential masters - and as a composer) and the US
group Caveman Shoestore: a trio that immediately appeared to me as quite
capable of performing - con brio and agility - those maze-like compositions
penned by Hopper. The only member of the trio that I had previously
encountered was electric bassist Fred Chalenor, whose work I had heard
on an album by the group Tone Dogs, Ankety Low Day (1990 - at the time,
it had been the presence of multi-instrumentalist Amy Denio that had
made me curious to hear the group), and who later became a member of
line-ups led by keyboardist and composer Wayne
Horvitz: Pigpen and Zony Mash. I knew absolutely nothing about the two
albums the trio had released during the first half of the 90s (Master
Cylinder and Flux), and so this was the first time I heard the work
of the other two elements of the trio: agile drummer Henry Franzoni
and keyboard player, accordionist and singer Elaine diFalco.
Caveman Hughscore (1995) was a good album, where multiple, fuzzed
bass parts were intelligently paired with diFalco's Fender Rhodes electric
piano, accordion and fine voice; at first it was a bit strange to hear
Hopper's melodies - which one usually hears "wearing British clothes"
- with a bit of "new wave USA sauce" added; the spoken parts
were not too successful, and I was also puzzled by Franzoni's drum parts:
while he was obviously a fine instrumentalist, to me his work sounded
more than a bit "out of sync" with the album. A different
drummer (Will Dowd), some wind instruments, and a very clear production
work (by Wayne Horvitz, i.e.: "every thing in the right place")
made the following CD, Highspotparadox (1997), the superior album, it
being the fruit of a joint collaboration released under the name Hughscore.
Different coordinates, but the same high quality, were to be found on
Delta Flora (1999), where the drum parts and the "space-age, modern"
production work - both by Tucker Martine - placed the material inside
a different framework.
Super Sale sees Caveman Shoestore back to their original trio: Chalenor,
diFalco and Franzoni. Hopper and Soft Machine are still part of the
"list of ingredients", but the sound - songs and instrumentals,
both in odd time signatures - reminded me of many things; we still have
a certain agility that we could maybe call "new waver USA with
mobile drums" (does anybody remember the Orthotonics?); Chalenor
plays the electric bass and the Stick, but there's no accordion this
time: in fine voice as her usual, here Elaine diFalco mostly plays the
Fender Rhodes and some synthesizers, which, with the exception of the
first track, sound fine. Super Sale is an album that calls for an articulated
judgement: there are a lot of nice things here, but there are also things
that I definitely found to be not to my taste; it'll be the (personal)
ratio of the former and the latter that'll determine one's final opinion.
Fifteen tracks in an LP-like length, many styles, beautiful songs,
agile instrumentals, musicians attuned to each other, music that reminds
one of many things but is never a direct copy: those are the pro. What
about the cons? Well, first of all a mix that sounds pretty peculiar,
to say the least: I had to turn the bass tone control quite a bit to
the right in order to place Chalenor's bass parts where I felt they
belonged. I also found many things sounding "wrong" with the
drums: the hi-hat is way too metallic-sounding, almost techno; the drums'
stereo spread sounds as too exaggerated to me; there's also a concept
of the work of the "rhythm section" that at times I found
to be detrimental to the songs - it was obviously not a "bass locked
with the bass drum" that I was expecting to hear, but on tracks
such as Austin Noto and Merry-Go-Treadmill the bass and drums sound
as they are coming from different worlds! But - surprise! - I found
myself listening to the album more and more often, every time with increasing
pleasure: so it's a glass that's half-full?
© Beppe Colli 2005
| Dec. 1, 2005