A Tuneful, Labyrinthine, Edgy New Album from the Danny Fox Trio
Danielle Spradley‘s cd cover illustration on the Danny Fox Trio‘s new album Wide Eyed is a woodcut in the style of Paul Klee. In the lower righthand corner, there’s a guy with an accordion – or is it a piano? – strapped to his back, facing a vortex. In some ways, Fox is a smart guy surrounded by idiots – but obviously not in his regular band, featuring bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman. They’re playing the album release show on May 9 at 8 PM at Subculture; cover is $15.
Much as there’s plenty of good jazz coming out of New York, the annoying affectations of indie rock have filtered into some of it. Spastic, burp-and-fart jazz has been around a long time, but there’s a Brooklyn clique who’ve taken it to new levels of awkwardness. Fox, who can conjure melody and meaning out of thin air, is a refreshing antidote to that. He has a distinctive, instantly recognizable voice on the piano, his shapeshifting, neoromantically-infused melodies with an almost ADD restlessness coupled with a wit that’s sometimes devious and sometimes gives way to exasperation and anger. The compositions here are more labyrinthine than those on Fox’s previous album, 2012’s cinematic The One Constant: it’s almost as if he decided to take everything in his tunebook and get it all in the can.
Although the idiom here is jazz, there’s an interweave of themes here that draws a straight line back to Beethoven and Haydn. The opening track, Sterling, is characteristic: impatient circular riffage gives way to rippling neoromantics and then a mathrock stroll that Fox finally leaves with an unexpectedly bluesy warmth, followed by a cleverly implied modal theme and then back to variations on the mathrock. That’s a lot to digest, but the band makes it look easy.
Bonkers circles around a rather petulant theme that Fox ends by enlisting his bandmates in a valiant attempt to make rhythmic sense of it. All Tolled takes a bell-like, Mompou-esque hook and builds to wry, sardonic, dynamically charged variations, bringing to mind the satire of Mostly Other People Do the Killing. The catchy, scurrying Drone – maybe about a drone zeroing in on its target? – peaks out with a rippling, circular piano hook. The wounded but undeterred title track is the closest thing here to the moody elegance of Fox’s previous album, while Confederates brings back the sarcasm, from a judiciously spacious intro to an exuberant march that’s too exuberant by half.
Short Al in Brooklyn – a shout-out to a notorious WFAN caller – starts as laid-back summery groove that never really finds its center notwithstanding Fox’s jaunty phrasing. Could it be that Short Al is short something else maybe? Fox follows that with Patriot Daze, a contemplative neoromantic mood piece and then Punches, a rippling departure into water music fueled by Goldman’s wavelike cymbals, dancing bass and a couple of droll ascents on the piano. Funhouse Memory is a mini-suite, loopy phrasing making way for an unexpectedly otherworldly, outer-space interlude, Fox’s aggressive block chords hitting a bluesy groove and then more neoromanticisms. Tumble Quiet, which Goldman drives from moody, echoey spaciousness to a prowling, loopy vamp, ends suddenly and enigmatically, as Fox often does here. Endings can be messy and Fox isn’t afraid to hit them head-on. There’s a lot to sink your ears into here.