Instead of just nicking minimalist technique for their own ends, they're expanding on it.
Peter Marsh 2002-02-22
Since its heyday on the late 60s, American minimalism has cast a long shadow over the musical landscape; the works of the so called big four (Reich, Glass, Riley and Young) have made themselves felt in the work of bands as diverse as the Velvet Underground, the Orb and Tortoise, to name but three.
Chicagoans Town and Country are a slightly different proposition; instead of just nicking minimalist technique for their own ends, they're expanding on it. Their delicate, acoustically driven music combines the influences of composers like Gavin Bryars and Morton Feldman with doses of American primitivist folk forms and chamber jazz, but doesn't sound like the mess that often arises from such fusions.
C'mon is their third album and comes on (sorry) like a lost session for Brian Eno's Obscure label. Quirky, sometimes beautiful and on occasion fearsomely austere in true Feldman stylee, Town and Country's music has the same air of quiet invention that marked early works by Bryars and Michael Nyman (before they achieved respectability), or lesser known figures like Jan Steele and Christopher Hobbs.
Unsurprisingly, all the band members are involved in other projects (usually improvisational), though here they display little interest in notions of technique or expressive playing. While some pieces such as the opening Going to Kamakura have a meandering, almost improvisational quality, not a note is wasted. Garden highlights the bands compositional strengths; airy acoustic guitar chords and hand chime figures underpin long bass clarinet and bowed double bass tones which never quite resolve into comfortable harmonies.
The Bells starts similarly, before shifting down a gear into a bleak spell of repetition of a single, crabbed chord from cornet, bass clarinet and double basses. After what seems like months, the dissonances resolve into lush, open chords in one of those moments of stomach tickling loveliness that come along once in a while. The closing Bookmobile is powered by an intricate, shifting network of almost hi-life acoustic guitars, hinting at chord shifts that never quite happen. It's this mesh of tensions, not-quite-resolutions and left turns into the unexpected that make this album such a rewarding listen. Sounding like it could have been made at any time in the last 25 years or so (and maybe anytime in the next 25 as well), Cmon is worthy of a place on your CD collection, and probably a place in your heart too. Lovely stuff.