|Growing up with Warner Brothers cartoons created a subliminal soundtrack for life. Certainly the rising notes you heard in your head were for someone walking up a staircase, then there was the creeping-around-the-corner music. Later we learned this music was all produced with great thought and skill by Carl Stalling and an orchestra of highly skilled musicians, borrowing sounds from Raymond Scott and the visual storytelling traditions of Western classical music.
Listening to the chamber pieces delivered by percussionist Brad Dutz on this disc brings to mind images of cartoons real and imagined. He does this through his grouping of various percussive instruments, chiefly the marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone with oboe, English horn, cello and various clarinets.
This release follows the highly acclaimed Nine Gardeners Named Ned (pfMentum, 2005), an extended form piece with similar instrumentation. With Ned and Manatees, Dutz draws on his extensive soundtrack work for movies and television. He has also backed the likes of Rickie Lee Jones, Willie Nelson and Kiss. (Yes, Kiss.) He has also made music which should be more familiar to jazz listeners, including work with West Coast improvisers Vinnie Golia, Jeff Kaiser and Alex Cline.
The precision of the compositions was what made Stalling’s music so special, and the same is true for Dutz’s music. He spaces the players' notes into snapping order on the opening “Spongy Bark” to create a very picturesque landscape. The unique chamber’s sound conjures the natural movement of the mind’s eye.
”Biff The Salesman” is built on a repeated pattern Dutz lays down, to which plucked cello, horn and woodwinds remark. The mallets, clarinet, oboe and cello configuration of “Hiram Becomes Ulysses” makes for a restrained wrapping and unwrapping of ideas.
The centerpiece of the recording is the nearly fourteen-minute “Mutilated Grass,” the least structured of Dutz’s compositions. Players slowly unfurl the piece, wrapping their rising sounds around each other, until the halfway point, where Dutz begins some hand drumming, which propels the others in a different direction. The members of the quartet, supplemented by Jasper Dutz, twists a double helix dance around each other in this propulsion of chamber energy. Here they replace the whimsy with a very heady listening experience.
Paul Sherman: oboe, English horn; James Sullivan: bass clarinet, G clarinet; Rachel Arnold: cello; Brad Dutz: marimba, vibes, xylophone, congas, bongos, bones, cajon, rig, doumbec, darabuka, other percussion; Jasper Dutz: Bb clarinet (3).