Click to hear: “Canoe From an Attica”
Fence Kitchen is composer, musician and occasional puppeteer Tim Harbeson. Harbeson is a member of the mind-bending underworld music trio tarpigh – and a former member of Cerberus Shoal, which swallowed the ‘pigh whole for two years and several great albums in the late ‘90s.
Beading the Rook is a collection of 13 original compositions performed and recorded by Harbeson at the Stillhouse Studio Theatre, a small performance space on High Street he runs with his partner, dancer and choreographer Buffy Miller. Several of the pieces on Beading are for Miller’s dances. The rest are meant to accompany “string-pulled people [and] enlivened bric-a-brac,” but most hold up quite well without the visuals.
The opener, “Shanty,” is a good example, and one of the best tracks on the album. Apparently composed to accompany a dance by Miller, I see puppets in my head when I hear this piece. It’s like The Muppets Take Moldova. Harbeson pumps out some sort of lopsided gypsy carnival tune on the pump organ and brightens it up with trumpet, likely played simultaneously The music lurches along like a three-wheeled cart for the better part of the song’s seven-plus minutes, then fades in mesmerizing fashion over the last three.
“Alone In Water,” the next selection, is also an impressive composition. This is a frightening piece of music, brilliantly executed. Haunting vocals, slasher-film piano jabs and swirling sound effects combine to create a genuinely spooky sonic atmosphere.
“Tombstone Pharmacy” is an Old Western freak show, a barroom piano piece that falls apart on itself. Then the rabid ghost coyote shows up, or something scary like that, and it’s over.
“Reading the Wit” is reminiscent of Harbeson’s stint with Cerberus Shoal. It has an elegiac/lethargic theme expressed with rich horn tones and stately, if slightly sedated, piano. This moves into an off-kilter jazz piano bit, during which it sounds like a rodent is chewing the piano leg. Odd stuff, but entertaining.
“Below Brio” and “Canoe From An Attica” are interesting short works, both pleasant little tunes that lighten the general gloom of Beading.
Not everything works. Harbeson’s “Overture” has some exciting and promising moments, but drags overall. “Sight,” at 11-plus minutes of pump-organ grinding – plus a sound in the background not at all unlike bedsprings in a whorehouse – gets wearing.
But then there’s “Big His Britches,” a jumpy avant-classical-jazz piano piece worth sticking with through all of its nearly nine minutes. Stretches of it call to mind a master ballet accompanist whacked out on a kiddie cocktail of Red Bull and Nyquil. You don’t hear that everyday, unfortunately.
Beading the Rook is a fine addition to the body of marvelous material Harbeson’s previously been a part of creating with tarpigh and Shoal. It illuminates his influence in those outfits while showing what a strong composer, producer and musician he is in his own right.
— Chris Busby
Fence Kitchen plays a CD release show with Alex Lukashevsky on Thurs., Feb. 9, at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 8 p.m. Tix: $5 (all ages). 828-5600. http://www.space538.org.