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
Eastern Star is classical Indian music for dulcimer, sax, steel drum,
bass and marimbas, a hypnotic concerto of droning strings and delicate
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
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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