- Prophecy of the Fourth Crow
- Breath of the North
- Long Dark Nights
- First Thaw
- The Greening
- Sacred Forest
- Ceremony: Song for the River of Time
- Vision Quest
- Ancestral Return
The description “a work of art” when it comes to an album has become trite and cliché. But what it really means in the case of Bud Tristano and Kazzrie Jaxen’s album “Lenapewiattuck: The River of The Lenape” is that the duo paint a musical picture of a powerful natural resource which also has deep historic significance as well as a steady source of inspiration for them personally. Known to us today as the Delaware River that borders New York State and Pennsylvania, a “walk to, and sometimes a dip into” the River of the Lanape inspired each track of this recording.
Right from the first track, “Prophecy of the Fourth Crow,” one can tell that the duo is ready, musically, for anything, as long as it is in direct service to conveying the vision of the inspiration of the mighty River. One can tell that both Tristano, the guitarist, and Jaxen, the pianist, both have a wide variety of influences (which they site as everything from Charlie Parker & Lenny Tristano to Bartok & Stravinsky to Hendix and Van Halen), and that they have ‘chops,’ but the spontaneously-composed pieces are never showcases of their individual talents so much as a fulfillment of the afore-mentioned vision.
The music on “Lenapewiattuck” is often abstract, but there are also times when the tonality is relatively consonant, and these moments are unpredictable and happen organically. This shows that the duo holds no pretention about playing “out.” It would have been unlikely that they could achieve such organic spontaneity that the River itself likely offers if they were harboring some kind of hidden musical agenda.
The duo is constantly interacting with each other, and they both have a significant degree and a wide variety of technique on their respective instruments. Listening to abstract music such as this reminds me of a lesson a high school art teacher once taught us about abstract art which can be summed up like this: if you think “any child could have done that,” try to do it yourself! There is certainly lots of skill required on the part of each musician to interact so consistently and spontaneously. The musical directions do change relatively quickly, which also adds to the overall adventurousness of the album.
After the opening ‘prologue’ track, the album highlights the River in each of the 4 seasons, beginning with winter. In “Breath of the North,” one can feel everything from stillness to the biting cold represented by Tristano’s shimmering tremolo lines that resemble someone shivering, while the pianist paints dark clouds and sometimes heavy storms. In “Long Dark Nights” Jaxen seems like she is using musical pointillism while her counterpart splashes darker waves of color against the canvas. “Glacier” starts off atonally but meshes into giant chord clusters from the pianist which suggest the massive and stoic blocks of ice while Tristano’s slow, scratching sounds could suggest the structure’s very slow moving, cracking, melting or crumbling. This culminates around the 3:20 mark which dies down and swells up again around 4:00.
From there as the River moves into Spring with “First Thaw,” the icicles are melting and their dripping is playing with the earth. Then the flowers are beginning to sprig in “The Greening,” and Tristano’s rapid tremolo suggests buzzing bees. In “Sacred Forest” the pianist does latch on to the moody theme created by the guitarist, although only briefly, and one gets the impression that the duo is in awe of the majesty of the forest while trying not make too much of a footprint in it on their sojourn.
“Ceremony: Song for the River of Time,” a 13-minute improvisation, takes us into summer time, in its full playfulness, with the duo interacting even more directly with swirling motives, but also the slow mellowness that comes from long summer days. Around 2:00, Jaxen plays a very simple octave motif that the guitarist can lazily interact with, which eventually winds into a motif of 5ths. Perhaps for the first time in the entire album, the interplay centers around a single tonality for good length of time, in full lushness after the 4:00 mark. One is reminded of the opening track of “A Love Supreme,” as the pentatonic lines of the guitarist giving nod not to blues but to Native American ancestry that permeated the area thousands of years ago. Like a shamanic ceremony, the parts are always moving, but throughout, there is a ‘bigness’ felt in the 6 directions (east, west, north, south, above, and below) as well as the 7th direction of ‘within.’ Finally around the 11:30 mark, Jaxen initiates an atonal low-end rumbling of controlled chaos, with the guitarist right there with her, until, unexpectedly, the ceremony concludes.
As the River moves into Autumn, we hear perhaps the most personal tune to the guitarist called “Vision Quest,” dedicated to a relative of the guitarist who presumably passed away. His distorted lines, dissonant intervals, and feedback are heart-wrenching. Complete with hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, use of the whammy bar reminiscent of Jeff Beck. Jaxen does a wonderful job of providing steady, sympathetic support to Tristano’s grieving, while allowing him plenty of space by not suggesting any particular musical direction. This is one of the few times where the guitarist comes to forefront, and yet is led by her towards the end of the piece to a somewhat peaceful if not yet contented conclusion.
In contrast, “Ancestral Return” sees the pianist dominating the musical direction with wild dissonant chords in rapid succession around the 3:00 mark. This is definitely not a peaceful autumn day at the River. With this stimulating yet somewhat agitated exploration, one wonders whether there are underlying feelings of regret over the original inhabitants of the land being driven out by newly arriving settlers. Whatever kind of ancestral return this is, it is definitely not triumphant; it is tragic.
The final title-track of the album serves as the epilogue. It is here that we hear the actual sounds of the flowing water, the birds and the surrounding landscape at the inception and conclusion of the track. The duo is back to representing the River’s flowing interaction.
In the movie “Smoke,” the protagonist takes a photograph of the exact same street corner at the same time every single day for 14 years. As you might expect, the scene changes quite a bit over time. Similarly, in “Lenapewiattuck: The River of The Lenape,” Bud Tristano and Kazzrie Jaxen offer a wonderful musical description of a constantly changing place, a place that is mysterious yet playful, sacred yet frivolous, deep yet carefree. This is Nature in all its glory, and the duo’s portrayal of all its aspects is a work of art.
About the author: Dennis Winge is a professional guitarist living in New York with a passion for vegan food and bhakti yoga. If you are interested in taking Guitar Lessons in Ithaca, NY, then be sure to contact Dennis!