NYC Jazz Record – May 2019
GREEN DOME, Thinking in Stitches (Case Study, 2019)
CD review by John Pietaro
Zeena Parkins- acoustic harp, concept, direction
Ryan Sawyer- trap and percussion
Ryan Ross Smith- prepared piano, electronics, modular synthesizer, live coding
If there’s a hidden soundscape between acoustic and electronic, live and tape or free and freer, Green Dome commands it. Rich in reverb, swathed in darkest colors, subtly haunting and almost hinting at a reconstructed score of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, harpist Zeena Parkins returns to the forefront with one of her boldest units. And that’s a wide swath for Downtown royalty like Parkins. One-time Rhys Chatham drummer Ryan Sawyer revels in artful subtlety and this line-up allows him welcoming atmosphere. His deft touch and masterful drive place him somewhere between Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones in the continuum, a floating, pelting, balladeer of percussion. Brake drums and metals accentuate his kit, or is that the modular synth, electronics and live coding of Ryan Ross Smith? Probably both. Smith is a composer and sound designer, so his approach here is focused and deeply alert to the macro experience. His prepared piano is an ideal counterpart to Parkins’ harp, whether colorfully trading phrases (as in “Hexagon’s Frame”) or blending sonorities (“Cyprus Lace”). And with Smith’s array of other-worldly echoes, Parkins is liberated from the arsenal of electronics she usually affixes to her harps. For this outing, she goes purely acoustic, and the natural chiming, singing resonance of the instrument is compelling. But listen as well to the industrial-sounding escalation of “Margaret Lace”, with Sawyer’s cymbal shading almost bending pitch, his growing attack downright merciless.
Such a trio with varying palette and erudite arrangements, has more in common with a chamber ensemble than might normally be heard in a jazz context. But Thinking in Stitches’ set of experimental, improvisational works based on lace knitting patterns, are more fire music than 12-tone, particularly with Sawyer rounding the edges in flurries and coordinated assaults. But the rhythmic pulsations are communal as Parkins leans into her instrument intently on “Chevrons”, pulling at the strings and conjuring minimalism of a whole other sort. Here’s a sound journey into windblown fragments, art deco pathways and magical vistas.