Maher Shalal Hash Baz Osaka Bridge (with Bill Wells)

[Karaoke Kalk; 2006]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: jazz, deranged pop
Others: Half Japanese meets Bill Evans

Bill Wells is a formidable pianist in jazz and classical settings, but he's received more attention for his unlikely collaborations. We forget that Wells has played alongside Evan Parker — just seems too obvious — but we recognize him immediately as that guy who collaborated with Belle and Sebastian, David Tibet, or Barbara Morgenstern. This pairing with shambolic Japanese pop group Maher Shalal Hash Baz — a band whose aesthetic is not unlike that of Jad Fair, who designed this album's cover — stands out among Wells's genre-crossing outings, however, as it captures a true synthesis of the band's joy-in-slop orchestrations and the pianist's propensity for dense, rich architecture.

In many of these songs, Maher's harmonizing horns light the way. They establish simple melodic themes that, like Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman's most memorable pairings, don't make perfect musical sense but still have the capacity for great emotional resonance. Squeaks and off-notes are common, but they seem as well-timed and expertly positioned as Wells' deft runs.

With most songs clocking in at around two minutes, Osaka Bridge is an album of fleeting pleasures. We don't get to live with the melodies as long as we might like, and gutsy improvisations begin and end in a matter of seconds. What could be doesn't spoil what is, however; even though the musicians sound capable of stretching these pieces out beautifully, they handle them quite well as they are.

1. Rye & Guy
2. Tipsy Cat
3. The Dust of Months
4. Duck
5. On the Beach Boys Bus
6. Oddults
7. Liquorice Tics
8. Poxy
9. Time Takes Me So Back
10. Family Sighs
11. Stabbed in Hamburg
12. The Williams Sisters
13. Cowtail Calypso
14. Banned Announcements
15. On the Beach Boys Bus (Reprise)