Hypnotic, Danceable Global Grooves from Tom Teasley
Whether he realizes it or not, multi-instrumentalist Tom Teasley’s latest album All the World’s a Stage is sort of the worldbeat counterpart to Augustus Pablo’s reggae classic By the Banks of the River Nile. As with that album, Teasley’s main melody instrument here is the melodica, which floats and flurries over a hypnotic thicket of percussion, all of which he plays himself. The result is a collection of exotic grooves which often recall Peter Buck’s popular late 90s gamelan-rock band Tuatara. All this works equally well as trance music or dance music, enhanced by the fact that these typically long, expansive tracks are basically just one-chord jams. Then again, that could be said about a lot of music from Iraq (where Teasley has toured extensively in recent years) and India, both cultures that Teasley draws heavily from here.
The album takes awhile to get going, but once it’s off the ground, it stays aloft. One especially prominent instrument is the African balafon, a lower-pitched prototype for the marimba and vibraphone, which sometimes plays a catchy bassline, sometimes carrying the melody by itself amidst a web of – are you ready? – frame drum, goblet drum, Irish bodhran, tambourine, cajon, Korg Wavedrum, Roland Handsonic and several of Teasley’s own inventions including the Aquasonic (a bowed instrument set in water), the Didgi-Harp (a spring-loaded shaker tube) and the Mallet Kat, a synthesizer designed to deliver the pinging sounds of the marimba, kalimba and koto. If you hear high, resonant, violin-like tones, that’s probably the Aquasonic; where the Didgi-Harp appears in this kaleidoscopic maze isn’t clear; the Mallet Kat makes its most powerful appearance on the album’s best track, Rise Up, which Teasley uses to deliver a biting, cimbalom-tinged solo against crescendoing melodic flourishes which evoke both flamenco and classic Egyptian dance music.
The album’s second track contrasts the keening Aquasonic and edgy melodica against a boomy backdrop, a device that Teasley uses memorably throughout the album. The third cut works a dubwise vibe, the drums tuned to provide a hypnotic bassline. Next, he alternates short, punchy melodica riffs with long spirals over a densely orchestrated shuffle beat, followed by the album’s most gamelanesque interlude.
From there Teasley explores Balkan modalities, revisits the south seas with a hypnotic yet jaunty flute tune, closing the album with a stately, cinematic Japanese-flavored theme. Who is the audience for this? Lots of people: dance music fans, stoners and fans of esoteric sounds from the aforementioned Tuatara to the Middle East and beyond.