By Bill Meyer | Published June 2019
Dustin Laurenzi is by no means the first jazz musician to take a shine to Louis Hardin’s music. Known professionally as Moondog, the blind poet, composer and multi-instrumentalist occupied a street corner one block from the jazz clubs of 52nd Street at the height of bebop, performing for passersby.
And really, it’s easy to see the appeal: Hardin’s rhythms and his habit of alternating time signatures from measure to measure, an approach he called “snaketime,” must have sounded exotic to mid-20th century ears. His tunes are full of contrapuntal constructions that promote interactions that Hardin never permitted his own musicians; in the liner notes to one of his CBS recordings he proclaimed himself “a classicist ... in form, content and interpretation.”
While there’s plenty of structure to build from, there’s also room to make one’s own interpretive mark. Several of the tunes Laurenzi—a Chicago saxophonist who leads his own band, performs as a member of Twin Talk and tours with Bon Iver—selected were conceived by Hardin as rounds. The original “All Is Loneliness” is a pithy 57 seconds. Laurenzi’s arrangement takes twice that time just to get to the melody, rising patiently from a soulful dirge to a bobbing groove. Guitarist Dave Miller adds a bit of Afrobeat grit to “Lament 1 (Bird’s Lament),” and both Laurenzi and trumpeter Chad McCullough let loose coarse cries contrasting with the watch-like precision of “Down Is Up.” The recording, captured live at Chicago’s Hungry Brain, is clear but immediate, accentuating the blend of idiosyncratic voices in this cherry-picked octet.
Snaketime: The Music Of Moondog: Nero’s Expedition; Lament 1 (Bird’s Lament); Remember; Fiesta Piano Solo; Down Is Up; All Is Loneliness; Lullaby. (45:21)
Personnel: Dustin Laurenzi, tenor saxophone; Chad McCullough, trumpet; Nick Mazzarella, alto saxophone; Jason Stein, bass clarinet; Dave Miller, guitar; Matt Ulery, bass; Quin Kirchner, Ryan Packard, drums, percussion.