By: Dennis Cook
It's a bit ballsy to call an album visionary in this age of hyper-recycling but San Francisco's Broun Fellinis are just that on their new seasonal offering, December (Stylus Quo). This is like the John Coltrane Quartet's softly brilliant Ballads shot with a PixelVision camera. Traditional holiday music gets a skewed, smart workout by Kevin Carnes (aka Professor Borris Carnes) (drums, sampler), David Boyce (aka Black Edgar Kenyatta) (tenor/soprano saxophone, efx, synth) and Kirk Peterson (aka Angel of Redemption or The Redeemer) (electric bass). Around since 1991, the Broun Fellinis excel at what the Art Ensemble of Chicago calls "Great Black Music" – a massive spectrum that incorporates hardnosed jazz, silken soul and all the other nourishing threads black musicians have contributed to the sonic spectrum. And all that richness comes to bear on December.
Their arrangements of overly familiar fare like "Jingle Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy" injects luscious vitality. Like Coltrane's similar strategy on Ballads, this trio both embraces the recognizable melodies while tugging them in all sorts of directions. We are reminded of the endurance of traditional music because of their tenacity in unearthing new side roads and hidden passages in places we thought we knew well. "Carol Of The Bells" has the stratospheric onrush of the best Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, tumbling headlong into a jittery, glitch beat-driven "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" that suggests Boards of Canada after a bowl of meth sprinkled Wheaties. And it's not all Santa and Jesus. Traditional Jewish ditties "Channukah" and "Dreidel" get reworked in a way not seen outside of John Zorn's Masada. "Dreidel," in particular, spins on a wholly new axis, with Carnes' wide-angle drumming and a skittering Augustus Pablo-esque reggae shuffle that transforms into a pile-driving skip that dances with Peterson's patient, cavernous bass and Boyce's winged soprano sax. If it all halts a little abruptly with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," that's just fine. The end is often sudden and always definitive, a dark punctuation mark on every life, every season, every year.
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