BEFORE MY LIFE
Before My Life
We Will Be There
Free by Twelve
Angel and the Boys
BEFORE MY LIFE LINER NOTES by NEIL TESSER, author The PLAYBOY Guide To Jazz (Plume)
“Landscapes and homelands.
Tim O’Dell envisions homelands, sees their landscapes, pours them into sound, presses them into tiny-pitted aluminum discs that enter your home, play you the pictures, take you away.
Where? To scenes as amorphic as the distant future (“We Will Be There”), and as specific as the sturdy fingertips of the music’s bassist (“Mr. Aoki”). To the Homer Winslow sobriety of a becalmed sea (“Ship’s Wake”) and the synaptic hilarity of the human sub consciousness (“Id”). From the bustling symmetry of “Fire Ants” to the seraphic solo saxophony of “Angel And The Boys,” Heaven and Earth and much of what lies between.
Homelands and landscapes – outposts of the imagination.
But who’d have believed the prairie – the prairie! – could yield so many of them, so many different outposts?
Tim O’Dell, and all the musicians who play Before My Life, come from the prairie, and despite the breadth and depth of the landscapes seen here, all the music they play could have come from no place else. Rock Island, Illinois, on the Iowa border, where Tim O’Dell and Steve Grismore live and teach at Augustana College; Chicago – home of the others – Chicago to Rock Island, it’s only 155 miles, three hours but only if you drive too slow and run into traffic. Not so bad, really – three hours on the prairie. Not even so bad to spend an entire adult life on the prairie, stretching from the carbuncled shores of Lake Michigan across the flatland contours beneath the man-made mountains and canyons, under the hi-rise hills and bungalowed bumps that form the city’s margins, past the airport out by exurbs and pastures, farmland featureless to the untrained eye, all the way to I-O-Way.
A new sound has emerged from late 20th-century Chicago, from the ghosts of blues bars and jive joints, reaching out to the edgy tendrils of avant-gardes from Satchmo to Lennie T to Muhal to Kenny V*, rough but not always jagged, jumpy but focused, concrete abstractions of landscapes and homelands. The prairie leaves its mark.
This openness, this unbounded stretch, this beckoning expanse of space that mystified and enthralled the first outsiders to see it – the prairie itself provides the perspective. Miles Davis and John Lewis, who both birthed the cool, were born in Illinois; Bix Beiderbecke, who conceived the notion in the first place with his clean uncluttered lines that point at far-off vanishing points, was born in Iowa. Lee Konitz grew up in Chicago, pushed Lennie’s ideas toward Braxton but also toward Tim O’Dell, who like Braxton has left his mark as a composer and a classicist and the leader of ensembles on the border between the African-American and the Euro-centric. Braxton gave them to the Chicago trombonists he hired for his band, George Lewis and Ray Anderson, and aren’t we getting close to Ryan Shultz in this family tree?
At the other end of the isolated straightaway, in almost Iowa, Tim O’Dell finds his common ground with these musicians and hammers together his ten-sided exhibition, irresistible portraits of ten times as many emotions, with plenty of room for them all to breathe.
The prairie leaves its mark.
Homeland and landscape.”
* Louis Armstrong, Lennie Tristano, Muhal Richard Abrams, Ken Vandermark
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