I’ve said it before, but few instruments get less respect than the tuba—not only is it unwieldy to play, but most folks associate it strictly with oompah music or marching bands. Obviously the tuba also has a long history in symphonies, and over the decades a few exemplary explorers have played it in improvised and avant-garde contexts, among them jazz artists Ray Draper, Bob Stewart, and Jose Davila and less categorizable experimenters Robin Hayward and Martin Taxt. Remarkable New York tubaist Dan Peck falls somewhere between those lineages: a hard-hitting improviser, he’s also developed his own tuba-driven variation on doom metal. He rolls through Chicago tonight and tomorrow as a member of the superb Serpentines project led by saxophonist and composer Ingrid Laubrock.
Peck’s long-running trio the Gate, with double bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Brian Osborne, play roiling sludge that makes Black Sabbath sound lithe and springy—it seethes, grinds, and throbs at the bottom end of the sonic spectrum. A 2016 cassette release from Peck’s own Tubapede label called Live! consists of two awesomely lumbering jams clocking in at 43 and 36 minutes. Peck and Blancarte create corrosive, ominous clouds of viscous bass tones, abraded and abstracted by electronic processing: rumbling puffs, honks, and surprisingly agile lines from Peck, and detuned arco drones and gnarled plucks from Blancarte. Meanwhile Osborne moves from slow-motion grooves to fractured, splattery improvisation and back again.
More recently the Gate released the studio album Island Virus, whose shorter pieces each explore a more specific idea. Its opening track, the hilariously titled “Black Bird of Death Spewing Death Puke,” could almost pass for an instrumental Melvins number played at 16 rpm, with an extended Blancarte solo that sounds like a procession through the gates of hell. “Troll Bells,” on the other hand, feels a bit like a folk-flavored ballad, except for its intense, striated bass solo and some inhumanly low tuba snorts; it’s tender and pretty but also deeply ugly and sorrowful.
Krystian Zimerman, Grazyna Bacewicz: Piano Sonata 2/Piano Quintets 1 & 2 (Deutsche Grammophon)
Alan Skidmore Quintet, TCB (Vocalion)
Magda Mayas & Christine Abdelnour, Myriad (Unsounds)
Laura Ellestad, Valdresspel i Amerika (Talik)
Eve Risser/Benjamin Duboc/Edward Perraud, En Corps: Generation (Dark Tree)