Saint Dirt Elementary School: Ice Cream Man Dreams
Barnyard Records

Saint Dirt Elementary School is a fearless nonet whose music at times suggests a kind of Bill Frisell-meets-Nino Rota hybrid with a smattering of Carla Bley (circa Music Mecanique and Social Studies) thrown in for good measure. The group's songs are dizzying carousels of glockenspiels, piano, bass, guitars, and woodwinds that pack an abundance of ideas into tracks running no longer than five minutes at a time. The whimsical and irreverent tunes aren't standard, solo-driven jazz compositions, though they are infused with a loose jazz sensibility and performed by players who could parade their chops if the music demanded it. Myk Freedman's lap steel brings a Frisell-like twang to the material, while alto saxophonists Kai Koschmider and Evan Shaw, clarinetist Julia Hambleton, and pianist Tania Gill complete a powerful front line that attacks the material with high-wire abandon; Wes Cheang's acoustic guitar, Ryan Driver's synthesizer, and drummer Jake Oelrichs' glockenspiel also add complementary colour to the album's fourteen tracks. Among other things, Ice Cream Man Dreams ranges between breezy stadium anthems, shambolic splatterfests, and bluesy dirges during its fifty-seven-minute running time.

Each song offers some memorable twist on the group's sound: “He Looks Just Like Her (and She Thinks He's Beautiful)” is so intricate it's a veritable Rubik's Cube of melodic invention; Mike Overton anchors the wistful Rota-esque theme in “Clicking with the Clique” with a Steve Swallow-like bass line; Gill's melodic playing lends “Poppy” a rather transporting Mediterranean feel; a sprinkling of klezmer spice sneaks into the clarinet-driven “Unnameable Dance”; and a bit of Monk-like impishness emerges in the oblique, bluesy swoon of “Bear Wrestler,” while the lead melody powering “Sparrow” is pure Monk. It's not all fun-and-games: when the mood strikes, the group's also capable of playing it straight and pretty (e.g., “I Am Trapped on a Ship That Has Already Sunk,” “Murder Ballad”). Though a large outfit, Saint Dirt Elementary School treads carefully in not letting its sound become overly muddied by competing voices. All told, the recording's a swell and scenic ride, and a pretty unique one at that.

August 2009