Deerhoof's dynamic new collaborations include an album with Chicago's Ensemble dal Niente | Bleader

Deerhoof's dynamic new collaborations include an album with Chicago's Ensemble dal Niente

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Deerhoof - JOE SINGH
  • Joe Singh
  • Deerhoof

On June 24, long-running and remarkably reliable art-rock band Deerhoof drop a new studio album called The Magic (Polyvinyl). And over the next week or so, two collaborative releases will prove just how busy the band and its members have been since Deerhoof put out La Isla Bonita in 2014. Today the band issued a long-in-the-works album called Balter/Saunier (New Amsterdam) that partners them with the great Chicago new-music group Ensemble dal Niente , and next Friday inventive Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich will release a recording made with former Chicagoan Jeremy Barnes (A Hawk and a Hacksaw/Neutral Milk Hotel) named The Coral Casino (L-M Duplication).

Balter/Saunier takes its title from the two composers of the music: Brazilian expat and former Chicagoan Marcos Balter and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. The roots of this unusual collaboration go back years. In a June 2012 concert at Pritzker Pavilion, Ensemble dal Niente performed a Balter arrangement of Deerhoof's "Eaguru Guru" and the band played its own headlining set, but the two groups didn't share the stage. That changed in February 2013, though, when they performed together in New York as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival, which often pairs disparate artists. The bulk of that set ended up as the material they'd eventually record for the new album: Balter's seven-movement knockout Meltdown Upshot and Saunier's extended reimagining for Ensemble dal Niente of various Deerhoof tunes, titled Deerhoof Chamber Variations. Those two pieces are separated by the remarkable Balter composition "Pois Que Nada Que Dure, ou Que Durando . . . ," named for a work by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa that provides a text sung by soprano Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, with spare, haunting accompaniment from guitarist Jesse Langen and percussion from both performers.

Balter is a big fan of Deerhoof, and he clearly wrote Meltdown Upshot with them in mind. Deerhoof bassist Satomi Matsuzaki sings the lead vocals, and though she retains her usual her sweet-toned, clipped delivery, the melodic shapes and stunning arrangements bring out a beautiful fragility in her voice that's rarely present in the band's own work. On the opening movement, "Credo," her voice is gorgeously shadowed by Bartlett and fellow soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw, with sparking harp lines by Ben Melsky and shimmering violin by Austin Wulliman. Other members of Deerhoof join in for later movements, such as the infectious, loping "Ready," which features wonderful, stuttering beats from Saunier and jagged, off-kilter guitar licks by Ed Rodriguez, along with regal French horn embellishment by Matthew Oliphant and meaty saxophone squawks from Ryan Muncy (who blows the same sort of wild-and-wooly snorts on a few other tracks, belying an interest in free jazz). It's embedded below. "Home" has a solemn, meditative feel, as Oliphant's regal lines glide over screechy dissonance from cellist Chris Wild and shuffling snare patterns by Saunier.
Lately lots of folks who've made names for themselves as rock musicians have been writing for new-music ensembles, including Wilco's Glenn Kotche, the National's Bryce Dessner, and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, but those collaborations tend to exist outside the rock context, which makes Balter/Saunier unusual—it doesn't attempt to separate aesthetic approaches, instead happily embracing both. Saunier, who's also written for new-music ensembles (including string quartet Brooklyn Rider), does an admirable job borrowing fragments from his own band's repertoire for Deerhoof Chamber Variations, but the results feel a bit too familiar. Dal Niente play everything exquisitely, but the drummer's arrangements feel too polite—like a new-music version of Deerhoof, rather than something more unified or something as jarring as Deerhoof can be on their own.

On Saturday, Ensemble dal Niente will informally celebrate the release of the album during a semiregular fund-raiser they call the Party. The five-hour event takes place at the ensemble's studio and will feature two hours of music performed by the group, including Chicago, North American, and world premieres—among them pieces by the great Belgian composer Stefan Prins (his 2012 work "Generation Kill"), Ensemble Pamplemousse member Natacha Diels (the new "Elpis"), and a new untitled piece by Kristen Broberg. The program will also include performances of Deerhoof Chamber Variations and Balter's "Pois Que Nada Que Dure, ou Que Durando . . . ," as well as works by Katherine Young, James Tenney, Georges Aperghis, Louis Andriessen, Fausto Romitelli, Jessie Marino, David Felder, and the folks behind Parlour Tapes. Tickets are a hefty $50 ($30 for students), but that price includes food and drink—and hey, it's a fund-raiser!

John Dieterich and Jeremy Barnes - COURTESY OF KINSMAN AND MENG PR
  • courtesy of Kinsman and Meng PR
  • John Dieterich and Jeremy Barnes

The Coral Casino
, which comes out next Friday, is a very different recording—Dieterich and Barnes met without anything written or planned. According to the press materials, "Their first forays into musical collaboration began with the stipulation that each had to improvise in a rhythmic manner while not listening to what the other was doing." I'm not sure how things progressed from there, because the end result clearly benefits from them working together. The two musicians played almost everything on the album—guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, and other stuff I can't definitively identify, including what sounds like an amplified cimbalom on "Parasol Gigante." (Heather Trost, Barnes's partner in life and in AHAAH, adds strings on a few tracks.) If anything defines this all-instrumental collection, it's prog rock, though Dieterich and Barnes never get bogged down with ponderous excess and quasi-classical ambition. They're clearly just having a blast, throwing ideas at each other and seeing what sticks. At times the results suggest a hyperactive take on Tortoise, while other passages draw on old-school exotica, reggae, and film music. The rhythmic drive has some connection to Deerhoof, but I'd never expect either of these guys to make a record like this. Below you can check out the jacked-up, frothy opening track, "Out and About."
Today's playlist:

Lonnie Smith, Think! (Blue Note)
Steve Reich, Early Works (Elektra/Nonesuch)
Dead Moon, Echoes of the Past (Sub Pop)
Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day III (Songlines)
Per "Texas" Johansson, Alla Mina Kompisar (Kaza)

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