Various Artists: Assemblage 1998-2008

Cryptogramophone's triumphant 2-CD retrospective is highly listenable, accessible, and immensely engaging. What is the opposite of under the radar? Cryptogramophone is headed there.

Various Artists

Assemblage 1998-2008

Subtitle: A Ten Year Retrospective
Label: Cryptogramophone
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-04-22

It seems predictable that a jazz label with a dense, mysterious, barely pronounceable name like Cryptogramophone might travel under the radar. Widely respected, but largely unknown, Cryptogramophone has been producing albums of impressive quality and breadth since 1998. Their triumphant 2-CD retrospective, Assemblage 1998-2008 is highly listenable, accessible, and immensely engaging. What is the opposite of under the radar? Cryptogramophone is headed there.

Assemblage is 19 tracks and a bonus DVD showcasing 17 Cryptogramophone artists all hand-picked by founding label head Jeff Gauthier. Gauthier himself is an exceptionally lyrical jazz violinist who, as leader of Jeff Gauthier Goatette, is among the featured artists. Gauthier has also penned the compilation’s thoughtful liner notes. These liner notes reveal esteemed names from the worlds of both rock and jazz: Nels Cline (guitarist for a little band called Wilco), Andrew Bird, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, and Jeff Parker (Tortoise). Other Assemblage contributors have lesser-known monikers, but are part of well-known ensembles: Scott Amendola (Charlie Hunter, Madeleine Peyroux), Erik Friedlander (Masada String Trio), and Todd Sickafoose (Ani DiFranco). Cryptogramophone allows the individual compositional talents of these artists to shine, very much independent of their day jobs.

I discovered this jazz label via violinist Jenny Scheinman, who had two of her own releases on Tzadik and played in the ensembles of Frisell, Norah Jones, and Lucinda Williams, before Cryptogramophone released her excellent 12 Songs. Assemblage reprises Scheinman’s pastoral, pacific “Song of the Open Road”. You’ll quickly understand why Gauthier added Scheinman to the label’s roster when you hear how similar this song’s thematic tone is to that of Jeff Gauthier Goatette’s “Solficka”. Two members of Gauthier’s band, brothers Alex and Nels Cline, also lead their own ensembles. While the Clines share the same blood, they offer two quite divergent depictions of jazz on this compilation. The Alex Cline Ensemble’s “Sonnet 9” is ten minutes of otherworldly serenity; the two tracks from the Nels Cline Singers display a penchant for angularity, noise, and dissonance.

I’ll soon seek out the full-length from percussionist Scott Amendola, who lankily underpins “Buffalo Bird Woman” while Scheinman and Nels Cline simultaneously navigate a treacherously tenuous tempo. The tune merges rock, jazz, and a desolate gravity, while projecting capital-B Blues. Cryptogramophone can also count on an up-tick in sales of Todd Sickafoose’s Tiny Resistors, whose textural “Future Flora” is featured here -- six minutes of suspenseful delicacy enveloped in warm production and Andrew Bird’s violin. I’ve always been interested in cellist Erik Friedlander from his Masada work, and his adventurous “Consternation” on Assemblage pushes me even further towards Quake. And, as a Tin Hat (nee Trio) completist, I’ll have to pursue group member Ben Goldberg’s Quintet after hearing their Steve Lacy-inspired “Song and Dance”.

With full knowledge of their stunning back catalog, Cryptogramophone must view Assemblage as a loss leader: why else would they offer two delightful discs -- did I yet mention the DVD? -- for the price of a single CD? You are guaranteed to find new favorites. Perhaps it will be Bennie Maupin? He of both Headhunters and Bitches’ Brew opens the second of the two discs with the lovely “Escondido” and, on the DVD, headlines a 20-minute performance in Poland. It is a show of pronounced nuance, the camera subtly fading between the players of Maupin’s Quartet as they pass his tunes around.

A majority of the DVD is the hour-long feature “Nels Cline & Friends Play the Music of Andrew Hill”, complete with interviews exploring Hill’s legacy and footage from recording sessions for the tribute album New Monastery. The highlight here is scorching video from concerts in NY and LA, though the live sound could be slightly crisper. The DVD is worth the price of admission for Crypto completists, and will also undoubtedly draw fans of Nels’ work.

Cryptogramophone offered my review copy gratis, but will certainly get my financial support and sincere following in the future. Can I convince you to do the same?





Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".


Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"


'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.


Regis' New LP Reaffirms His Gift for Grinding Industrial Terror

Regis' music often feels so distorted, so twisted out of shape, even the most human moments feel modular. Voices become indistinguishable from machines on Hidden in This Is the Light That You Miss.


DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.


On Infinity in Miranda July's 'Me and You and Everyone We Know'

In a strange kind of way, Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know is about two competing notions of "forever" in relation to love.


Considering the Legacy of Deerhoof with Greg Saunier

Working in different cities, recording parts as MP3s, and stitching them together, Deerhoof once again show total disregard for the very concept of genre with their latest, Future Teenage Cave Artists.


Joshua Ray Walker Is 'Glad You Made It'

Texas' Joshua Ray Walker creates songs on Glad You Made It that could have been on a rural roadhouse jukebox back in the 1950s. Their quotidian concerns sound as true now as they would have back then.


100 gecs Remix Debut with Help From Fall Out Boy, Charli XCX and More

100 gecs' follow up their debut with a "remix album" stuffed with features, remixes, covers, and a couple of new recordings. But don't worry, it's just as blissfully difficult as their debut.


What 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Taught Me About Unlearning Toxic Masculinity

When I first came out as trans, I desperately wanted acceptance and validation into the "male gender", and espoused negative beliefs toward my femininity. Avatar: The Last Airbender helped me transcend that.


Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi Remake "I Am the Antichrist to You" (premiere + interview)

Nu Deco Ensemble and Kishi Bashi team up for a gorgeous live performance of "I Am the Antichrist to You", which has been given an orchestral renovation.


Rock 'n' Roll with Chinese Characteristics: Nirvana Behind the Great Wall

Like pretty much everywhere else in the pop music universe, China's developing rock scene changed after Nirvana. It's just that China's rockers didn't get the memo in 1991, nor would've known what to do with it, then.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.