Album Review – Willie Waldman Project “Total Improv”
When I saw this pop up as a new release on Bandcamp about a month ago I was happy for two reasons: one being that I have heard Willie and his assorted musicians in the past and loved it, and also…improv is a great way to experience music. I have been listening to it for about a month now and offer my thoughts here:)
First off, I like the cover art – there is something whimsical about, simple even but it still really portrays the idea of improv in an abstract way…if you ask me anyway!
The album kicks off with “Exodus” and hits you early on with some great guitar work and a simple but complimentary back beat. It is an enjoyable song to listen to although it has an underlying nervous energy. Right near the mid-point the music plays around with soaring toward the great heights of openness and then crashing back into a valley of horns and guitar. Also some parts of it sound to me like a very loud, obnoxious train departing for some far-off land… and I mean that in a good way!
A great counter-point follows, with “Misty Night” coming across much more softly and lending you some cool down time after the charging sounds of “Exodus”. There is some really great trumpet playing here also along with a catchy drum sound that I always think of as a “club beat.” Listening to it evokes a scene of walking along a river in some urban setting, maybe a few water taxis rolling by as the bars close up around 3 am…the night is winding down and it’s been good one. Even though “Exodus” is a close second-place, this song is my favorite on this album.
Arriving next is “Carnival”, for me the only so-so song on this release. It feels more all-over-the-place than it needs to (even for improv) and also is the longest song. That may be a contributing factor in my opinion because some parts of it I really liked, such as the guitar that comes in around 2:40, but overall it just went on too long for me.
The next song, “Lightspeed” has some extremely effective clarinet at the beginning that lends a throaty vibe to the music. You can really pick out the separate instruments on this selection and I particularly liked the Tabula peeking through the background of the sound. It is a chill tune, good for pondering or exploring the universe. Even when it picks up the pace in some sections (starting around the two minute mark) it still maintains an underlying calmness from the bass guitar notes. Groovy party music for the lounge after the warp drive is engaged 🙂
Speaking of the Tabula, welcome it warmly at the opening of “Firestorm” as it lends a distinct Middle Eastern vibe that carries through the entire first half of this song. About midway through the tone changes to something more experimental although the Tabula remains in place. And then, with about two minute remaining, along comes a great collection of sounds and notes colliding to provide a dramatic, if somewhat unsettling section prior to a smooth exit on the trumpet.
The final two pieces on this record are “The Loon,” and “Wood”. While the first of these is light and airy, the final song is a very classic jam and a fitting end-piece to this fine release. Every time I listen to “Wood” I can picture myself sitting around in a comfortable, familiar place with friends and collaborating in the way that these musicians do. We might not hit is as well as these talented people…but it would be great fun!
I also want to note that throughout this record there is some really great bass guitar work that lends a solid foundation to the tracks. It also takes a more prominent role on some songs (a fine example being “Wood”) and delivers great grooves. “Total Improv” is an overall solid listen that gave me (so far) a month of enjoyment with very regular listening. The compositions are expansive and I found myself discovering nuances each time I played it. I encourage you to check it out!
You can visit their Bandcamp page at https://williewaldmanproject.bandcamp.com to listen to this record and find out more about the band.
Please remember to support your local musicians and artists, during these challenging times and always. Community is powerful 🙂