Tuatara


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Breaking The Ethers , 7/10
Trading With The Enemy , 6/10
Cinemathique , 4/10
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Tuatara are REM's Peter Buck, Screaming Trees' drummer Barrett Martin, Luna's bassist Justin Harwood, and jazz saxophonist Skerik (Nalgas Sin Carne). Martin and Harwood are the brains and theirs is a personal take on world-music. The all-instrumental Breaking The Ethers (Epic, 1997) is a collection of free-form jams that employ didgeridoo, steel drums, African percussions, vibes, mandolin and dulcimer.

Breaking The Ethers is a masterpiece of layering: it opens with an ethereal ethnic Trance Mission motif, then quickly develops a harder texture thanks to a multitude of pounding drums and to shining jazz horns with a latin feel a` la Gato Barbieri. Martin and Skeric are protagonists of a fantastic duet even if each seems to hardly acknowledge the steps of the other.
The fusion between latin, jazz and Indian music is even more prominent in The Desert Sky, which is mainly a spiritual duet of Martin's sitar and Harwood's steel drum on a backdrop of dulcimer and tablas.
Saturday Night Church comes from a completely different angle, but exhibits the same fusion prowess. The Duan Eddy's twang and cocktail-lounge steel drum are used to build a dark atmosphere, borrowed from spy thriller soundtracks, until Skerik steals Roland Kirk's flute phrasing and engages in a demonic dance.
Burning The Keys proceeds backwards: first the foursome frolics through a wild afro-jazz jam and then the music glides into a moody noir ambience.
Eastern Star is classical Indian music for dulcimer, sax, steel drum, bass and marimbas, a hypnotic concerto of droning strings and delicate ringing. A monster saxophone riff and some pow-wow drumming propel the double-guitar jamming of The Getaway.
The melodic jazz themes of A Dark State Of Mind and Goodnight La Habana crown an intellectual carousel of quotations.

Trading With The Enemy (Epic, 1998) is less fresh and a little too sophisticated, self-indulgent to say the least. It displays the same style of hyper-fusion, but in a much more "crowded" setting. The arrangements lean towards an "orchestral" dimension, as the serene theme of Smuggler's Cove, punctuated by the vibraphone, is repeatedly challenged by fiery horns solos, The caribbean tide of Night In The Emerald City and the tropical carnival of Fela The Conqueror are pretexts for collective and solo improvisation. The display of musical brilliance is impressive, but the net result is an affectionate revision of kitsch, easy-listening, muzak stereotypes.
Luckily, a neurotic undercurrent adds a more interesting psychological dimension to a few songs. The Streets Of New Delhi borrows from Tuatara's favorite soundtracks of urban thrillers and unleashes a feast of punchy horns, fatalistic twang, suspenseful organ and hyperkinetic drums. The loud, polyphonic fanfare of L'Espionnage Pomme De Terre turns almost cacophonous. Afterburner pounds like hard-rock.
But the album's standout is the one piece that does not sound like the others at all: The Bender, stretched like a rubberband by didjeridoo drones and tribal drumming, springs into a feverish bolero propelled by percussive piano and funky guitar. For a few minutes, the competent, diligent, impeccable nine-piece ensemble turns into a rowdy rock and roll band.
Tuatara has taken a life of its own and it is now a full-fledged instrumental jazz combo with its own program of total immersion in exotica, cocktail lounge and assorted 1960s sonic paraphernalia. Very little of what we hear, though, conveys anything beyond the delight of playing with high-caliber musicians.

Cinemathique (Fast Horse, 2002), on the other hand, sounds like it was improvised during a weekend, rummaging whatever the band super-members could dust off from their drawers.

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