Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble
1) I Dig • Les Baxter 4:04
2) Main Title From "Man With The Golden Arm" • Elmer Bernstein 4:36
3) Martini For Mancini • Joey Altruda 4:45
4) Three Views Of Havana (World Premiere) • Robert Drasnin 6:33
5) Taki Rari • Moises Vivanco 3:21
6) I Put A Spell On You • Jay Hawkins 5:46
7) "Main Title" and "Background To Murder"
From Orson Welles’s "Touch Of Evil" • Henry Mancini 9:37
8) Main Title From "The Naked Gun" • Ira Newborn 3:51
9) Malambo #1 • Moises Vivanco 3:04
10) One Mint Julep • Rudolph Toombs 2:59
11) Prelude, Fugue And Riffs • Leonard Bernstein 8:08
12) Soul Bossa Nova • Quincy Jones 3:05
Produced • Duane Schulthess and Chris Strouth for ICE
Recording Engineer • Mark Brodin
Mastering • Bob de Maa
Art Design • UMod007 for AlliedChemical.com
Editing • Duane Schulthess
Executive Producer • Philip Blackburn
Performing on I Dig:
Conductor/Artistic Director • Duane Schulthess
Clarinet • Vic Volare
Soprano • Janet Gottschall Fried
Saxes/Flutes: Matt Sintchak, Sue Fancher, Doug Little, Richard Dirlam, Mark Engebretson
Trumpets: Ray Vasquez, Joe Cosgrove, David Baldwin, Dan Fretland, Dan Massoth
Trombones: Tony “T-Bone” Baker,
Mike Dugan, Rich Berggren, Rick Gaynor
Piano: Erik Griswold
Percussion: Vanessa Tomlinson,
Dave Schmalenberger, Joe Holmquist
Bass: Dave Berg
I Dig recalls an evening (April 29, 2000) when a new music ensemble played lounge exotica music at a Minneapolis nightclub. The group was the Minnesota Contemporary Ensemble, here for the first time reborn as the Intergalactic Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). (Minnesota has been subdued and made safe for new music; the further conquest of America will not satisfy our ambitions, and even the world is not enough.) Exotica, bachelor pad music, crime jazz—played by a band known for its performances of Maxwell Davies, Varèse, Nancarrow, and Zappa. And at the Fine Line bar, not the Gehry-designed museum ICE ordinarily frequents. But please don’t think this was done in the postmodern spirit of kitsch appropriation. On the contrary—this recording represents an unapologetically highbrow attempt to reclaim the best of a marginal musical genre for the canon of Great American Music. Not that the crowd that danced ecstatically to Prelude Fugue and Riffs knew that, or had to know it. A killer show is a killer show. But if exotica benefitted from the fad for cocktails and 1950s style revival, by now the pack of hip consumers have canceled their subscriptions to Cigar Aficionado and moved on to new lifestyles. I Dig arrives too late to ride the trend, but not too soon to do the real work of musical reappraisal.
ICE director Duane Schulthess is not the first musician to take a serious second look at exotica. A revival has been going on since the 1980s, when musicians of an archivist bent started looking for new sounds and found them in the tacky-looking records they found gathering dust in used-record stores. In the 1990s, talented musicians like Skip Heller and Joey Altruda took up this music with historicist zeal, adding to the tradition with their own compositions and mounting concerts of exotica masterworks with surviving masters of the style. I Dig takes another step: the performance of this music from a perspective slightly outside its tradition, filtered through the lenses of modern jazz and composition.
The very term “exotica” needs qualification. Perhaps the main thing to understand is that most of this music belongs to a culture of Hollywood studio musicians and West Coast big-band pros. This is music of a film sensibility, whether or not it is actual film music. Whether it paints a picture of gaudy Incan rites (Yma Sumac), the noire world of a heroin-addicted jazz drummer (Man with the Golden Arm), a sexy pre-Castro Cuba (Three Views of Havana), sinister dealings south of the border (Touch of Evil), or simply a little Playboy sophistication (A Martini for Mancini), it is always a music of images. As Skip Heller notes, each tune is a “trip to a world that never existed.” These are the musical traces of those imaginary landscapes that are America’s contributions to the world’s collective memory bank of images. This is perhaps the real meaning of the term “exotica,” and it is what gives I Dig its subliminal unity of conception.
Time and critical opinion have not been kind to this music. Why is Henry Mancini not listed in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz? Why is Les Baxter consigned to the same music-historical category as Liberace? A lot of things conspire against this kind of music. Like fusion, it bothers conventional jazz critics by inhabiting the unbordered ground between jazz and pop. Its showbiz glamour looks superficial against the vein-popping intensity of a John Coltrane. It represents a lost, Cold War kind of hipness alien to a culture blanketed by the hegemony of the post-1960s counterculture. And while the World Music industry profits from the contemporary fetish for ethnological authenticity, exotica’s landscape of the imagination—tiki idols, volcanos, hula girls—seems flamboyantly inauthentic. But the only kind of authenticity that counts is that sense of aesthetic vividness and immediacy that cannot be faked. If it sounds good, it is good, and performance is the best kind of music criticism.
There is too much music on this album, too many images, too many great moments to enumerate, except briefly. (My personal favorite moment: Erik Griswold and Joe Cosgrove in Taki Rari sneaking into a McCoy Tyner groove for a few moments before rejoining the Latin cruise.) What exotic pleasures await? There is Janet Fried from the Minnesota Opera, in the two Yma Sumac numbers, rising aloft in a kind of Diva apotheosis on waves of chugging Latin brass and glittering percussion. There is One Mint Julep and A Martini For Mancini, those celebrations of the recreational-chemical signature of lounge: the numb tingle of alcohol, the dry rasp of a cigarette. And then there is Henry Mancini’s score to Orson Welles’s film Touch of Evil, which sounds—well, evil. Its layered ostinatos, leering reeds, and slow-burn groove recreate the film’s atmosphere: the looming promise of interest to be paid on an accumulated debt of wicked deeds.
In 1998, Skip Heller approached Schulthess with the idea of performing Robert Drasnin’s 1960 exotica album Voodoo. Schulthess jumped at the opportunity—as an L.A. native, he knew of Drasnin’s legacy as the former music director at CBS television. Voodoo became the centerpiece for ICE’s first exotica show, and the following year Schulthess commissioned Drasnin to write a new work for the show documented on this album. Three Views of Havana, as the title suggests, is a triptych of movements, each of which refracts the same graceful tune through a different mood.
Leonard Bernstein wrote his Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs in 1949 for Woody Herman’s Second Herd, but that fabled group never played it; Benny Goodman gave the work its premiere a few years later. Despite this early history, it is played in classical venues and treated as a classical work. It is therefore refreshing to hear it swing—played in a nightclub and reimagined as a nightclub piece. The solo clarinet playing of lounge singer Vic Volare has the throaty, brazen quality of a big-band player rather than the sleek tone of a conventional orchestra clarinettist. Note the glissando that touches off the detonation at about 5:30 into the performance: it sounds like nothing so much as Ross Gorman’s famous slide at the beginning of the 1924 Whiteman recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Soul Bossa Nova has been made famous by Mike Myers (Austin Powers), who probably heard it on the old Canadian game show Definition. The ICE version is a little slower than Quincy Jones’s own recording; it rides an easy, fat-bottomed groove whose after-hours, pack-up-the-instruments feel suits an encore.
I Dig is rounded off by Erik Griswold’s homage to Screaming Jay Hawkins, who died a few days before the ICE show. Griswold, a composer and keyboard player equally at home in jazz and contemporary installation art, created a looped backing track out of the riff from
I Put A Spell On You. His live improvisation against this background recalls Lennie Tristano’s Requiem (for Charlie Parker): an inside/outside collision of blues roots and abstraction in tribute to a dead hero.
Like the 18th-century Mannheim orchestra, the Fine Line incarnation of ICE was an army of generals. But a few generalissimi stand out. Dig the stratospheric lead playing of Ray Vasquez, the whipcrack bop trumpet solos of Joe Cosgrove, the modal sound-sheets of tenor sax/flute soloist Doug Little. Dig Tony Baker, probably the only trombonist ever to have gigged with both Wynton Marsalis and Pierre Boulez. And you must dig the rhythm section that juiced the band’s megaton groove. There is a film genre Joe Bob Briggs calls the “assemble-the-squad movie” — the old army platoon reassembles for one last mission, and each character has some exotic and deadly skill that will become important at some point in the movie (the demolitions guy, the knife-thrower, the wheel man, etc.). This band had an assemble-the-squad feel to it: the fun came in hearing such variously-talented musicians turned loose on this material.
The Fine Line show capped an ICE tour through the midwest. By the time ICE hit the stage, their attack had been sharpened to a cold chisel’s point, their already-tight ensemble and brilliant sound arriving shrink-wrapped. When Schulthess unleashed the full fury of his band after the teasing percussion riff that opens I Dig, you could feel it in your body, like a blast wave from a building demolition. Everybody looked at one another in wild surmise. The looks said: these cats are bad.
Liner notes by Phil Ford, University of Minnesota