Another Clever, Psychedelic, Ridiculously Amusing New Album From the Versatile Curtis Hasselbring
For all his noir overtones, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring is a funny guy. He’s played spy jazz and seriously straight-up jazz, but he’s also a distinctive guitarist and multi-instrumentalist with purist taste in early 80s new wave and no wave rock. In keeping with his cinematic style, he’s most recently been working his Curha project, which these days has become a one-man band outlet for his most satirical, cartoonishly psychedelic side. He’s bringing those songs to the small room at the Rockwood on April 12 at 8 PM.
Just the titles of the tunes on his latest Curha 3 album – streaming at Bandcamp – are a dead giveaway. The opening track is Seeing-Eye God, a carnival-of-souls organ theme built around a prowling boogie-woogie piano loop. On one hand, it’s unusually dark, compared to the stuff on the other two Curha records. On the other, it may be have real-world relevance, considering how the surveillance-industrial complex went warp speed in the months after March, 2020.
Hasselbring keeps the organ, adds an enigmatic guitar lead and what sounds like pizzicato violin over the vaudevillian drum machine loops in the second track, The Gravity Games, a wryly anthemic new wave chorus popping in and out unexpectedly.
Bee Alley is a Residents-style exercise in variations on a goofy bass-synth loop with an unexpectd, um, Americana-ish detour that’s too good to give away (hint: lusitanos). Boulevard of the Avatars is even funnier, a crazed but very carefully orchestrated mashup of blippy motorik sounds, an adventure theme and trippy Tom Tom Club minimalism with just a hint of genuine menace. Hasselbring also distinguishes himself here on baritone sax!
The funeral parlor Casio makes a brief return in Badly Supervised Seance. Rode on an Airplane Last Night – now THAT’S a even scarier, huh? – has Hassselbring doing a brassy big-band intro and outro around a goofy, dubby, strutting theme, a rare moment where his trombone takes centerstage.
He assembles a surreallistically textured trip-hop layer cake with A People Mover, then builds a marionettish promenade out of tinkly music-box timbres in Library of Infinite Calamity.
Then he breaks out his guitar again for Three Weird Sunsets, the missing link between George Clinton and 80s oddballs Renaldo and the Loaf. He closes the record with Everyone You Know, which could be the theme to a Martian sitcom about Jamaican Rastas in the 70s. Dare you to make it all the way through this album without smiling.