A series of collective improvisations combining pianist/composer Tao’s multifaceted musical sensibility with the ensemble cohesion of brass quartet The Westerlies
The Westerlies and Conrad Tao present Bricolage, an album of improvisations and experiments recorded in a small cabin in rural New Hampshire in June 2019. True to the definition of the title, the music finds its form in the unscripted conversation of the instruments and imaginations at hand, uncovering new sonic worlds to both performers and listeners alike.
For two weeks, the collaboration between The Westerlies and Tao came to life as they embarked on a daily practice of improvisation, pairing brass and keyboard with digital processing and extended techniques, erasing the lines of genre in the process. Tao’s musical dynamism emerges as both a fearless performer and spontaneous composer, while The Westerlies subvert the natural timbres and tendencies of their instruments to unearth new sonic terrain and compositional cohesion.
Bricolage features nine pieces drawn from the session tapes, humbly captured with a few microphones and minimal editing. Amidst the chirping birds of rural New Hampshire and creaky cabin floors, a musical narrative is woven in patient but deliberate fashion, encapsulating what is at the core of this album: an exploration of beauty in its raw, messy, and unvarnished state.
“Dendrites I” opens the album with an inquisitive and spare melody from Tao, soon giving way to cascading trumpets and solemn, priestlike trombones. Tao heralds the climax of the track with thunderous interjections from his left hand, and the machinery of interlocking rhythmic counterpoint in the brass recedes to leave Tao’s piano once more alone at the center. The stage for Bricolage has been set, and the opening track lays the groundwork for an album of ecstatic fanfares and intimate, inward-looking incantations. At its core stands a work entitled “just so long and long enough,” recalling the words of the E.E. Cummings poem [as freedom is a breakfastfood]. The centerpiece of the album, “just so long and long enough” patiently brings the listener into the intimate physical space in which the album was recorded, and into the intimate sonic space created by the performers. “On Matters of the Heart” concludes Bricolage with a mantra-like chorale, a thoughtful reflection of the recent past with an optimistic eye toward the future.
Bricolage creates its own language in the ebb and flow of group harmony with dissonance, and conversational concurrence with discord. This collection of pieces was created and captured in the moment like lightning in a bottle and conjures the collective imagination of this new collaboration that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The Westerlies, “an arty quartet…mixing ideas from jazz, new classical, and Appalachian folk” (New York Times) are a New York-based brass quartet comprised of childhood friends from Seattle: Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. From Carnegie Hall to Coachella, The Westerlies navigate a wide array of venues and projects with the precision of a string quartet, the audacity of a rock band, and the charm of a family sing-along. The ensemble has produced four critically acclaimed albums of genre-defying chamber music and collaborated on recordings with Fleet Foxes, Common, Big Red Machine, Muzz, Vieux Farka Touré, and Dave Douglas.