Playfully Conversational Improvisation From an Allstar New York Crew
The new Playfield Vol. 3: After Life album – streaming at Bandcamp – is just out. The eight-piece improvisational band’s single, drifting, roughly half-hour track here is a tantalizing snapshot of the kind of multi-generational alchemy that was ubiquitous in this city before the lockdown.
Hearing Luisa Muhr launch the record all by herself with her lustrous vocalese is a trip: the irrepressible multimedia artist’s dance improvisations often turn archetypes inside out and can be spellbinding. A playful bit of an exchange with sax player Daniel Carter lures in Eric Plaks’ drifting electric piano, followed by Ayumi Ishito’s similarly resonant sax and the stark textures of guitarists Aron Namenwirth and Yutaka Takahashi. Bassist Zach Swanson maintains a steadily looming, terse presence, drummer Jon Panikkar taking his time on the way in.
Wah-wah and skronk spice the cloud, Carter in erudite bluesy mode. A decay to austere, wary chromatics gets pulled back up gingerly by chucka-chucka from one of the guitars while the other lingers. The saxes waft as the guitars veer from icy ambience to more jagged incisions, Swanson strolling contentedly by himself, occasionally with a triumphant leap.
Muhr returns briefly to set up a deep-space interlude, Carter shadowing Ishito’s balmy lines, which take on a desolate late-night streetcorner melancholy. The guitars build an increasingly spiky thicket, Muhr chilling back in the mix and then suddenly picking up with a bit of achingly frenetic scatting.
Plaks wryly introduces a familiar New York theme at just after the 25-minute mark, and the whole crew can’t resist messing around with it: obvious as it may be, the joke is too good to give away. Swanson tries to drag the whole crew into swing while Muhr spaces out her distant arioso riffs and the group flutter their way out. The group play the album release show outside 166 N 12th St. in Williamsburg today, May 16 at 3 PM.