The topic of this review is yet another ESP-Disk release, and I've often wondered if ESP is an acronym for "not for the faint of heart" in Esperanto.
I'm a lot more certain of this, though: Barnacled is a perfect fit for the label, which seems to relish challenging anyone who thinks they have an open mind when it comes to music. This seven-piece band from Providence, R.I. is probably too punk to be called jazz, but the whack element is off the charts. For starters, look at this configuration. You got a guy playing bass, baritone sax, and a "modified Speak & Spell." There's another guy who plays alto sax, percussion and a shortwave radio. One gal plays a bassoon and her sister plays a horn in F. There's a dude who squeezes the accordion and another one who handles drums and percussion. And lastly, a fella who plays keyboard and various electronics. His name, by the way, is Frank Difficult.
Their debut for the ESP-Disk label came out last month, and needless to say at this point, Charles is similar to most albums from this label, which is to say, like nothing you've heard before.
Each of these eight, original tunes are dauntless panty raids on styles so disparate, they make one strain his brain trying to reconcile them all. The liner notes brings up the word "prog" a lot, but it's not your King Crimson/Yes kind of prog. We're talking more like Can, Henry Cow, and the Muffins. They've got that gypsy East European thing going when the mood strikes. Even classical music has a seat at the table. If John Zorn ever lost his backing band in a plane crash, he could annex Barnacled and continue on as before like nothing happened.
Barnacled likes to toss in odd time signatures, a squealing alto, a squawking baritone, a bassoon/horn in F/accordion line reciting a rootless klezmer line in an odd signature, while fuzzy electronics swirl around and a relentless tom-tom pounds away below. And that's all just in the first cut, "Title."
The next track "Rattles" provides no respite from this blessed insanity. It's roughly what you'd get had Eric Dolphy attempted Russian folk music. That is, until the drummer Matt McClaren reels off rapid-fire shots at random intervals with horns and an organ emit a foreboding drone in the distant background. Craziness meets creepiness.