Andy Biskin, clarinet
Kirk Knuffke, cornet
Brian Drye, trombone
Jeff Davis, drums
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The first thing that might catch one’s eye about the details of composer and clarinetist Andy Biskin’s quartet Ibid’s album Act Necessary is that there is no bass player involved. Rather, the ensemble contains clarinet, cornet, trombone, and drums. It’s a quirky group, playing some appropriately zany tunes, to the point where, if you close your eyes for certain tracks, it’s easy to picture a tiny cartoon marching band dancing its way across your field of vision. Such a lighthearted style—definitely Biskin’s forte, as evidenced by his extremely successful Goldberg’s Variations—which includes a deft fusion of New Orleans jazz, Tin Pan Alley, funk, and yes, polka, gives the music healthy doses of spirit and groove.
Apparently before Ibid came into existence, Biskin had also been experimenting with drummerless bands, which would naturally lend a more chamber-music feel to his music, but for this group he decided to turn things around by dropping the bass and adding drums. Because the arrangements are top-notch, my ears never found the missing bass to be an issue. There’s plenty to hear without it, and indeed, the treble-heavy lineup contributes to the sense of lightness in the music. The three melodic instruments work together to capture a satisfying sense of range, often going off in different directions to spin and whirl around one another, and then suddenly meeting at a common chord and progressing forward in rhythmic unison, like four friends on a scavenger hunt. Everyone has ample soloing opportunities, and they take them with creativity and gusto. Kirk Knuffke stands out in “Page 17,” a wonderfully energetic tune full of quick changes and surprises. As one might expect, trombone spends a lot of time filling up the lower range of the sound spectrum (check out the beginning of “Page 17′ for a good example), but Brian Drye shows his soloing chops in “Pretext” and “The Titans” while cornet and clarinet take on support roles. Also notable is that Jeff Davis’s drumming—mostly with brushes—always fits into the texture just so and is never overpowering. That you’ll likely be dancing within ten seconds of his entrance in “The Titans” or at the outset of “Just Like Me” goes to show that a great groove doesn’t have to be loud.
While all of the musicians on Act Necessary are clearly virtuosic performers, this is not so much a show-off-the-chops album, but more of a let’s-all-have-fun album, and that sentiment absolutely extends to the listener as well. The songs are complex and substantial, but never self-indulgent, with plenty of small details to be discovered upon repeated listening. While you’re dancing around the living room, of course.