Eric Chenaux: Dull Lights

Sandro Perri: Plays Polmo Polpo

Following on the heels of Toronto-based shows where he performed under his own rather than band name, Plays Polmo Polpo finds Sandro Perri giving his typically electronic material a different spin with these homespun solo treatments. Largely acoustic-based, the five songs exude an intimate and laid-back feel with the spotlight on Perri's singing and acoustic guitar work. In the instrumental opener “Romeo Heart (slight return),” Perri and nine players from Toronto 's improv community clothe the piece in a multi-hued garb of clarinets, flutes, saxes, harmonica, electronics, and guitars. Though the remaining pieces hew to a more conventional vocal-based song format, the swooping lilt of Perri's voice gives them distinctive character. “Requiem for a Fox” is loose, distended even, with incessant ruptures of six-string angularity skewering the balance and derailing the tempo. Elsewhere, Perri enhances “Sky Histoire” with trombone playing while muted horns subtly augment bluesy back-porch rhythms in “Circles.” Refracting the Polmo Polpo material as Perri does makes for a novel half-hour diversion.

Chenaux's Dull Lights is album-length but otherwise a natural complement to Plays Polmo Polpo: not only has he recorded and performed with Perri but Chenaux's album likewise puts voice and guitar at the center, with sparse accompaniment in this case courtesy of Martin Arnold on banjo and Nick Fraser on drums. In songs like “Weather the Wind” and “However Wildly We Dream,” Chenaux's voice becomes a wistful nucleus for the free-flowing splashes of guitar, banjo, and drum colour that cluster and billow throughout his ruminative settings. The seemingly straightforward folk style of the Toronto native's approach is fractured by his free-wheeling, ‘damaged' guitar playing (heard most prominently in the broken electric pluck and scrape of “Ronnie-Mary”). At times resembling bagpipes, rustic strings lend “Skull Splitter” a Scottish folk-drone character while “Dull Lights” unfurls as breezily as a slow-moving cloud. Strangely, the banjo-guitar pairing and intricate compositional style of “Worm and Gear” and “White Dwarf White Sea ” recall Bill Frisell, with the latter even featuring a Rota-like melodic turn that occasionally surfaces in Frisell's work too.

Despite their off-kilter instrumental ambiance, Plays Polmo Polpo and Dull Lights veer considerably closer to a more conventional vocal-based songwriting style than is the Constellation norm but they're no less appealing for doing so. Needless to say, there's no whiff of compromise about either release, just a different side to the label being presented.

September 2006