Photo: Joe Singh

Deerhoof / Ensemble Dal Niente: Balter-Saunier

Not one forgettable moment surfaces; not one skippable track presents itself in this era of impatient listeners waiting for the memorable or gut-punching banger.
Deerhoof / Ensemble Dal Niente
New Amsterdam

In 1986, unseen forces dog-earred the universe for a one moment, colliding minimalist composer Harold Budd with members of the Cocteau Twins for a one-off dream pop wet dream called The Moon and the Melodies. The album’s opening track, “Sea Swallow Me”, deepened fans of Fraser’s appreciation for her beatific range and tonal wordplay as Budd accompanied Fraser with a contemplative and memorable softly-played arpeggio on the piano. The result created a magic that, if repeated, could potentially disrupt the shape of things to come, universally speaking.

Sometimes the universe indifferently permits crimes of passion to occur. U2 found what it was looking for and lost it after Achtung Baby, committing one latter-day sin after the next, but not one more egregious than their collaboration with Luciano Pavorotti on “Miss Sarajevo”. Of course, the intent outweighs the sin, considering the war in Bosnia received little attention stateside, and Bono was, and still is, an influential pop star with Nobel Peace Prize-winning potential. The ingredients, however, made for a cringe-worthy dish. Pavorotti ascended to a level where U2 could never dream of reaching. Even with Brian Eno manning the controls and doing his best to balance the two primo uomos, the best thing that could come from their well-meant efforts was blazing a siren on an ethnic cleansing largely ignored by the American public.

The difference between Bono and Eno’s collaboration with Pavorotti and Deerhoof’s collaboration with Chicago’s Ensemble Dal Niente, one of this era’s most respected group of contemporary classical musicians, is submission and greatness. Plus, Greg Saunier, Deerhoof’s, rock music’s closest incarnation of jazz drummer Milford Graves, arranges the Balter’s complex and contemplative compositions. A strange paradox emerges here. Deerhoof has yet to misstep in their fusion of the avant garde and noise pop. Mention the name Deerhoof to almost anyone, and a unanimous physical response combined with a smile and the expression “Oh, I love them” detonates from within their bodies, exploding with earnest joy and admiration.

At the same time, Deerhoof know themselves, and they know that they stand at the foothills of the avant-garde musicians who inspire them, from Yoko Ono to Laurie Anderson to Philip Glass. Lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Satomi Matsuzaki brings a sharing and creative spirit to Ensemble Dal Niente’s fold. Together on Balter-Saunier, a complimentary ode to the 42-year-old Brazilian-American composer Marcos Balter, there are no prima donnas or primo uonos. An unusual coup takes place where Deerhoof sound like musicians who have performed for many years with Ensemble Dal Niente. Part of this tolerable façade belongs to Chris Saunier’s meticulous arrangements of Balter’s compositions. Not one forgettable moment surfaces; not one skippable track presents itself in this era of impatient listeners waiting for the memorable or gut-punching banger.

Chris Wild, Dal Niente’s cellist and artistic coordinator, sets a serene tone on Balter-Saunier‘s opening track, “Meltdown Upshot: No. 1, Credo”, permitting his performance to match the dynamics and atonal melodicism in Matsuzaki’s voice. The frenzied rhythms of “Meltdown Upshot: No. 3, Ready” not only showcases Saunier’s ability to share welcomed space with other rock musicians crossing over to the classical side, such as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and the National’s Bryce Dessner, but his frantic playing, measured against the deluge of off-beat rhythms hit with unforgettable precision. Together with the 22-piece orchestra, they conquer Balter’s anaerobic tempos.

The interpreter’s fingerprints are always found on the interpretations of other composer’s compositions. “Meltdown Upshot: No. 6, Cherubim” resonates of an unreleased Deerhoof track. Minus the harmonies, the skronk, Saunier’s machine gun attack, and Ed Rodriguez’s uncompromised, yet made-to-fit guitar riffs compliment Dal Niente’s determination to make the composition seamless.

When the 20-minute “Deerhoof Chamber Variations” arrives, it becomes difficult to fathom that Deerhoof is the same band that remixed Maroon 5. At the same time, what can also be heard is their influence on Stereolab, on St. Vincent, and Xiu Xiu. For a band rooted deeply in the avant-garde, noise, and punk rock, it is reasonable to conceive in this post-millenial age to anticipate the possibility of anything at all. Deerhoof remixes Blake Shelton?

RATING 9 / 10