There’s a lot of great music coming out of the indie classical world, but that world’s also got problems. For one, some of this era’s most popular [using the word “popular” in a very relative sense here – ed.] material has the same offensive, simpering gentrifier effeteness that has come to dominate indie rock. And sometimes even the good stuff has an overseriousness that overshadows the music – it seems that everybody (ok, almost everybody) is more concerned about being taken seriously (and maybe getting a serious grant) than with writing good tunes. That’s where Jeremy Justeson steps in. The cover of his album Pimpin’, released earlier this year by American Modern Recordings, has WTF written all over it: it’s a pastel neon scene straight out of Purple Rain. But the music is serious: seriously tuneful, atonalism taking a backseat to melody almost all the way through, and much of it seriously noir. Fans of dark sounds have a lot to enjoy here.
The album opens with Scott McAllister’s Pistol Packin’ Mamma, a cinematic mini-suite that powerfully alternates chase scenes with a relaxed nocturnal ambience, some deliciously apprehensive timbral contrasts between the sax and Kurt Nikkanen’s violin, and a couple of clever ELO quotes. Michael Djupstrom’s Walimai also works variations on a theme, alternating Maria Asteriadou’s icy, otherworldly piano glimmer (Kirsten Broberg is another current composer whose excellent work in this vein comes to mind) with rippling cascades, another couple of chase scenes and a long, elegantly introspective outro. Justeson switches to soprano sax on another sax/piano tune, John Mackey’s Sultana, a bitter, aching bolero, then tackles Rob Smith’s Schizo ‘Squito, a solo piece for alto sax that balances comedy against pensiveness, squawks giving way to stately angst. Insects have feelings too!
Robert Paterson’s Tongue and Groove pairs off alto sax against Paterson’s own creepy marimba in a ghoulish marionette’s dance that gradually warms, setting the stage for Joseph Rubinstein’s Spirit, a rippling, somewhat towering neoromantic duo for alto sax and piano that gives Justeson a chance to show off an impressively nuanced, dynamic sense of color and shade. The only miss here is the title track, by composer du jour Jacob TV aka Jacob Ter Veldhuis, which shoots for a blaxpolitation-inflected whimsicality but ultimately ends up shooting itself in the foot.