Andrew Pekler: Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns

Pekler's Nocturnes, False Dawns and Breakdowns doesn't sound dramatically different from his 2002 debut Station to Station—once again he digitally constructs bold tapestries from samples of analogue jazz material—but it is dramatically different in another key respect. Miles Davis seems to be a primary source, specifically the recordings of his 60s quintet (it certainly sounds like Tony Williams' throbbing bass drum and cymbal splashes in “Nocturne 1,” for example) even if Pekler's more drawn to the sublime Hancock-Carter-Williams triumvirate for samples than Miles or Wayne Shorter; in other moments, he quotes from Davis's live soundtrack to Louis Malle's 1957 film Ascenseur pour l´échafaud, while the freer and more open-ended playing evokes Live-Evil and Bitches Brew. In its post-construction form, however, Pekler's sound recalls like-minded explorations by Burnt Friedman and especially Triosk.

By design, Pekler's music is less concerned with recreating the improvisatory flow of his forebears than constructing mood pieces from samples and loops that indexically reference the original material, a statement that alone should call to mind Jan Jelinek's similar Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records. Both artists gravitate towards jazz samples from the ‘60s, although Jelinek tends to conceal them through micro-editing; Pekler allows the edits to retain more identifiable, and produces a sound rooted in the jazz tradition but given a post-modern sheen by the terms of its construction and omnipresent vinyl crackle. Much like Teo Macero, Pekler splices recorded material into new, heavily edited configurations. Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns is also reminiscent of Autopoieses' La vie à noir, not only in its shared nocturnal theme (the idea carried over into song titles like “Here Comes The Night…” and “Leaden Lids”), but in its emphasis on glitchy loops and early jazz samples (“Stardusting” might just as easily have appeared on Autopoieses' recording as Pekler's).

To return to the initial point, what is the dramatic difference between Pekler's albums? His solo debut Station to Station includes eight tracks, with all but one in the five- to seven-minute range; Nocturnes, False Dawns & Breakdowns, on the other hand, includes fourteen with nine under three minutes and only one cracking six. Of course an album's quality isn't determined by song durations but the time differences here are telling. On the debut, Pekler lets the material stretch out—a wise move, given its jazz leanings, plus it gives saxophone contributors like Aaron Czerny and Elliot Levin room to shine. The new album is crippled by the shorter running times; pieces register more as vignettes which leave little opportunity for development, a state of affairs that's especially constraining when the album sounds like a Davis band that, given the chance, would blow the studio's walls down. The aforementioned “Nocturne 1” promisingly pairs the drum elements with an anchoring Ron Carter bass line but it ends before it has a chance to turn into something of substance; “Nocturne 2” similarly repeats and ultimately remains a relatively static mood piece. A pensive bass-drums pulse with electric piano and soft sax tones shows promise on “Wait” but again there's little growth, and whatever promise “In Circles” has can hardly be explored in a mere fifty-seven seconds.

There are compelling moments. In the memorable “Arches,” sparse Rhodes sprinkles and a soul-funk rhythm evoke Filles de Kilimanjaro, plus Pekler adds some Ornette-styled violin scrapes for exotic contrast. In a rare instance of dynamic change, the repeating rhythm in “Sleepless” gradually builds up a head of steam, while the organ-synth smears and animated drum-bass groove in the longest piece “False Dawn” update the (Miles) sound to a funkier and more experimental period; because it's given a chance to stretch out, it also suggests how much stronger the album would be had all the pieces been treated likewise. “Streetworm” too invokes a slightly later sound, and there even seem to be wah-wah trumpet bleats forcing their way in at the song's edges.

Pekler places a wavering thrum of static and hiss into the background of many tracks, making the album more reminiscent of the Triosk/Jelinek 1+3+1 collaboration than anything else. Ultimately, for all Pekler's construction skills and commendable taste in sampled material, Nocturnes, False Dawns and Breakdowns disappoints for not further exploiting the wealth of possibilities offered by that material. Consider Triosk's latest release Moment Returns as an album that accomplishes what Pekler's doesn't. In about the same amount of running time, Triosk updates the 60s jazz trio aesthetic by combining its members' piano-vibes-bass-drums playing with current technologies (and loops) while also thoroughly developing the album's ten pieces.

December 2004