VaVatican
I Love You (Dora Lee)

What happens when you get “too good” at your instrument? Some go straight for free-jazz, jumping into a solo career to create a “big name” that will eventually collaborate with other “big names” in the improvisation world. Free experimentation with other skilled musicians becomes procedural — the task being to converse virtuosically with your instrument in a variety of different formats, honing in on loose concepts or musical goals. Another option might be to eventually attempt a reconciliation of instrumental skill with the greater pantheon of art history, a history that may or may not involve jazz. In this case, the talented player embarks to apply their instrument to other mediums, to create works that abandon the moniker of the virtuoso. Perhaps I’m making a conjecture, but VaVatican’s particular brand of NYC post-instrumentalism demonstrates a group of players who are so damn good at playing their instruments, they’re nearly bored with standard improvisational flaunt. Instead, they’ve more in common with staged performance, with theater, with constructing fragmented anti-narratives through their instruments. They may align more with Beckett than Coltrane.

I had the pleasure of seeing VaVatican perform about two years ago and was blown away by the technicality of each musician. The saxophonist’s squall was informed by various preparation techniques, using scotch tape to create multi-phonics. The drummer was restrained and textural, occasionally erupting into sharp blast beats. The whole thing was wrapped in the shimmering high-end of cerebral synth playing. Yet, most impressive was the odd “mariner’s tale” that was unfolding throughout; the performance eventually ended with a grunt-laden standoff between the guitarist and saxophonist. Eye contact. Anger. Unbelievable drama.

It’s that spirit that carries over to I Love You (Dora Lee), a statement that’s easily one of the most serious proclamations of love I’ve recently heard. Side one begins with a large oceanic swell that forthrightly speaks to their musical intention; the largeness of the cassette’s opening suggests their declarative project, something about absurd utterance. While these moments of bombast are interwoven with sections of extended saxophone technique or electro-acoustic contact mic gibberish (farting), the “big hit” moments include a passage of back-and-forth “tree-naming” and their cataclysmic finale of an Elvis Presley cover. Despite the playfulness throughout, the seriousness of their micro-drama isn’t lost. The triteness of “Love” (of Elvis) is rendered beautiful, the meaning restored.

Stream the work below and pick up the cassette @ NNA tapes.

• NNA Tapes: http://nnatapes.com

Chocolate Grinder

CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we’ll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.

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