No instrument is as mellow as the cello, and cellist/composer Gideon Freudmann’s Ukranian Pyjama Party would be the perfect soundtrack for an October afternoon, sipping herb tea in your fez and velvet smoking jacket and poring over R. Crumb comics. As the title suggests, there’s a wacky Eastern European feel to the music. The majority of the tracks are instrumentals: a wise choice on Gideon’s part because his talents as an instrumentalist and composer outweigh his abilities as a vocalist and lyricist. That’s ok, Gideon doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously as a singer-songwriter (or anything else) anyway.
This guy has a well-developed sense of that weird and melancholy old-timey humor that is the life-blood of all great folk and popular music from Howling Wolf to Beck. Gideon expresses that humor best in musical terms: in the strangely strange but oddly normal interplay of cello and steel drums on the opening track, for example, and the sparse, formal rhythms that move his music now like insects on a leaf and now like Chaplin’s drunk dancing with a coat-tree. Gideon also knows that brevity is the soul of wit. None of these tiny, perfect, bug-like compositions outwears its welcome. Au contraire: two words that encapsulate exactly what Gideon is all about, contrariness.
The few times that Ukranian Pyjama Party springs a leak are when Gideon tries to express his humor in what Dan Hicks calls, “an instrumental with some words to it”. On songs like “Japanese Car” and “Bad News Café”, the results are just not cool enough to invite repeated listenings. That’s the challenge of writing humorous songs: how do you make people want to listen to the same jokes over and over again? It’s about as easy as writing Beck’s “Asshole” or Zevon’s “My Shit’s Fucked Up”.
But let’s be grateful for an artist like Gideon, and celebrate the majority of this CD that is truly worth checking out. It’s a rare trick to make instrumental music that’s funny and moving and addictive. Only A Mother, Thelonious Monk, Captain Beefheart now and then, how many can really do this trick? Ukranian Pyjama Party will perfectly fill a vacancy that you didn’t know you had in your collection: a gap in the middle of all that serious U2, Patti Smith, and Moby-type music that can only be filled by curious, mildly melancholy, acoustically generated cartoon soundtracks from another dimension. Put it over there between Michael Hurley’s Hi Fi Snock Uptown and Dan Hicks’s Where’s the Money.
// Notes from the Road
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