Winter & Winter
About five or so years ago, it seemed like the new thing in jazz might just be old music from Eastern Europe. Musicians from all over New York were moonlighting in Macedonian wedding bands and dedicating themselves to improvising fluidly in 12/8 time. Clarinetist Chris Speed and guitarist Brad Shepik were the most studious of the bunch. They, along with bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer Jim Black, formed Pachora, the modern improv and Eastern Euro folk group that leaned hardest toward the folk side of the equation. Many of the musicians who jumped on the Euro folk train have since jumped off-Shepik himself has moved from heavily folked-out projects to a straightahead guitar trio-but Pachora keep the light burning, though with a bit of a twist this time out.
On their latest recording, Astereotypical, most familiar Pachora elements return: there's Speed's lilting clarinet, straight man to Shepik's idiom-bending guitar and electric saz playing. There's also elongated time signatures and melodies to match. What's missing is a sense of earnestness and reserve that made earlier recordings sound contained. The band reveals a new playfulness here, an attitude shift reflected in the unreadable short fiction they've put in place of liner notes. Fortunately, the music is much better than the fiction. The band has brightened their melodies and allowed measures of atmospherics and chaos to slip into the music. "Bushka Lounge" could double as a spy theme; "Push" includes so much of Shepik's abrasive distortion and Black's hard-rock drumming it might fool even longtime fans. Pachora have been easy to admire in the past. Now it's possible to enjoy them as well.