George Graham Reviews "Arc Iris" by Arc Iris
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(Anti- Records 87314 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 04/16/2014)
In recent years, there have been a number of women creating eclectic music either on their own or with a band. Over the past couple of decades Kate Bush and Tori Amos have been making music that defies ready categorization borrowing on classical, folk and other genre. In this series, we have spotlighted My Brightest Diamond, featuring Shara Worden, violin player Laura Cortese, the band called The Summarily Dismissed, and Anna Dagmar, to name a few.
This week we have a new recording by a new band that also is very high on the eclecticism quotient. The group and the CD are both called Arc Iris, and the leader, principal composer and creative force is Jocie Adams.
Ms. Adams has a rather interesting background. She had classical training but also was attracted to space science and worked for a while for NASA. Then concentrating on her music, she decided to move away from her classical specialization and join the eclectic folk-influenced band Low Anthem from Rhode Island. While she was with them, Low Anthem's visibility among the public increased and they enjoyed their greatest commercial success.
But Ms. Adams was looking to start a new band that reflected her gamut of musical interests. The result is Arc Iris, not to be confused with the New Age influenced band Arco Iris. After being primarily heard on clarinet with Low Anthem, on the new CD Ms. Adams is a multi-instrumentalist playing guitar and keyboards as well. Her collaborators include Zachary Tenorio-Miller on a similar collection of instruments, Robin Ryczek on the prominently-heard cello. There are other string players as well, with the music getting into some orchestral treatments at times, and those orchestral arrangements also include brass. There is a trombonist named Charlie Rose, and he also plays pedal steel guitar, which makes for another interesting juxtaposition between the country style twang of the steel with the contemporary classical-sounding chamber group. Other members of the band include drummer Andrew Barr and bassist Max Johnson. Vocally, Ms. Adams' can sometimes take an almost theatrical direction. Her songs take full advantage of the wide-ranging musical capabilities within the group, with some tracks shifting gears sometimes abruptly between sounds. The lyrics, though most often about relationships, can be as fanciful as the music.
The CD leads off with Money Gnomes which epitomizes the curious but charming musical amalgam that is Arc Iris with cello, banjo, brass and more conventional rock instruments. Like many of Ms. Adams' compositions, the piece takes a few changes in stylistic direction. She sings presumably about greed. <<>>
Lost on Me is another kind of mini-suite in various parts which fans of Kate Bush will probably find common ground with. <<>>
A very different facet is shown on the song called Singing So Sweetly, which pops between a kind of theatrical cabaret sound to more atmospheric. <<>>
Another surprise comes on Ditch which goes off into doo-wop territory. In fact "doo-wop" is what the background singers are saying. It's a kind of love-lost song, with the sort of lyrics you don't often hear in a doo-wop song. <<>>
There is a suite in two-parts called Honor of the Rainbows. The first is a wordless piece with the vocals accompanying Robin Ryczek's cello. <<>>
The second part of Honor of the Rainbows is a well-written and fairly long suite in itself, that can also be reminiscent of Kate Bush or Tori Amos. <<>>
And if that were not eclectic enough, Arc Iris does a country-styled song about cocaine called Powder Train. Lyrically it's rather similar in direction of J.J. Cale's similarly-named song. <<>>
The CD ends in grand style with a piece called Swimming, which takes a kind of kitchen-sink approach with all kinds of disparate influences put into a virtual musical blender, with surprisingly coherent results. <<>>
Arc Iris, the debut album by the New England based group of the same name, is a fascinating stylistic amalgam put together by composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jocie Adams, previously known for her work with the band Low Anthem. It's music that is both sophisticated and quirky, massively eclectic and often playful, with interesting compositions performed a band who are obviously enjoying creating this good-spirited musical conglomeration.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The music has a lot of natural dynamic range, frequently waxing and waning, louder and softer. The recording quality generally respects that without much of the heavy-handed volume compression that is so common these days. But the recording of the instrumentation lacks some of the sonic clarity it could have, and can sound a little murky in places.
For some artists mixing styles can be an obsession. Often the result of that can be a little abstruse or just confused. But Arc Iris has come up with an excellent balance between the exploratory and the entertaining.
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