Out with the bassist and drummer and in with the alto sax/flutist, bassoonist, and accordion player/sampler. The word standard doesn't even remotely apply to Many Rings, the chamber-free music group guitarist Joe Morris has assembled recently. As mouth-watering as the prospect of instrumentation like this is, and as esteemed as Morris's reputation has become, the uninspired concert didn't quite rise to expectations.
For much of the time, Many Rings played music that was the aural equivalent of the soundtrack to a nature documentary turned horror film. When audible over the din, Andrea Parkins's accordion filled the spaces with ominous washes of sound. But bassoon player Karen Bocca and alto saxophonist and flutist Rob Brown frequently fell back on chirping staccato repetition, while Morris's guitar popped and percolated like a boiling river. Though impressive, the raucous, thick ensemble sound was more disorienting than anything and kept the listener at arm's length. With the possible exception of Parkins, the group played out and over one another with little in the way of empathy.
At moments of softer dynamics (and there were a few), the group shifted down into component parts and improvised in reaction to one another. These introspective passages hinted at the band's inner methods and alluded to the promise Many Rings showed on its sole recording (Many Rings on Knitting Factory Records). A few more such passages might have salvaged the concert. Most thrilling, and at the same time disappointing, was Morris himself. Using only an unadorned, pure electric tone, Morris made his guitar sound unlike any other. Seldom playing chords or crafting lines, Morris focused instead on abstract, rumbling textures -- burbling streams of notes with only the slightest sense of pulse -- giving the tunes context and a form of sorts. His contributions were arresting in themselves, but surprisingly rigid in context.
While opener Slander Media peppered its set with the occasional outburst of semi-free jazz or downtown klezmer, its own particular bombast, at heart, has much more in common with the homier schools of garage rock and funk. On tunes with titles like "Bite the Wax Tadpole" and "Sam's Beverage," the band indulged in some not so pleasant habits like clichéd rock solos, flimsy tunes, and seemingly endless cadenzas. And when subjecting the crowd to periods of freak-out noise, the band postured less like sonic experimentalists and more like teenagers revving the engine on their mom's station wagon. Although there were moments of promise -- and the band gets points for sheer force of enthusiasm -- it wasn't the best opener for a group like Morris's. -- Steinberg