By J.D. Considine | Published July 2019
If you’re a fan of Brian Krock’s inventive and idiosyncratic large ensemble debut, Big Heart Machine, it might be tempting to assume that liddle is just a scaled-down sibling. But it’s not. Not quite. Yes, there are fewer players while the overall sound is flavored by a similar blend of metallic guitar and bumpy, oblong rhythms. But Krock plucked the name of his group from the opening pages of James Joyce’s magnum opus, Finnegans Wake, and as Joyce scholars remind us, “liddle” is both an approximation of how a small child might say “little” and an allusion to Alice Liddell, Lewis Carrol’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.
Perhaps that’s why there’s a through-the-looking-glass quality to much of the writing here, as Krock and his mates repeatedly take the compositional ideas and turn them inside-out. “(Flip),” for example, opens with a six-note alto phrase that, as Krock elaborates on it, has the rhythm section stumbling purposefully to match the melody’s rhythmic variations.
That’s the big difference with liddle—as strong as the writing is, it’s the playing that carries the album, with arrangements designed to give players the room they need. Guitarist Olli Hirvonen makes particularly good use of his space, developing solos texturally in addition to melodic and rhythmically (his long solo on “Knuckle Hair” is a masterpiece of aural muscle flexing), while pianist Matt Mitchell’s fondness for crisp, single-note lines works brilliantly against the drums and bass on Anthony Braxton’s avant-bop “Opus 23b.”
liddle: (Flip); Knuckle Hair; Memphis (Intro); Memphis; Saturnine; Heart Machine; Opus 23b; Spondulics; Please Stop. (54:24)
Personnel: Brian Krock, alto saxophone, bass clarinet; Olli Hirvonen, guitar; Marty Kenney, bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell, drums; Matt Mitchell, piano; Simon Jermyn, electric bass.