Here is jazz for 2008: thoroughly original, endlessly creative, unabashedly modern without being iconoclastic. Todd Sickafoose, who is primarily a bassist but also plays all manner of keyboards and mallet-stricken instruments, has produced in Tiny Resistors one of the year’s most compelling listens. This stuff grooves and simmers. From the opener, “Future Flora,” to the closer, “Barnacle,” the album envelops its audience. Yet it’s hard to pin down. There are pieces of many puzzles in this mix: Bitches Brew-style fusion, Eno-meets-Radiohead rock-electronica, postmodern film soundtrack music, and more.
What is most evident from this document is that Sickafoose sees his musicians not so much as a band as a palette from which to paint the canvas as he hears it. The band itself is an eclectic ensemble: trumpeter Shane Endsley, saxophonist/bassoonist Ben Wendel, trombonist Alan Ferber, guitarists Adam Levy and Mike Gamble, drummers Allison Miller and Simon Lott, plus help here and there from baritone saxophonist Skerik, violinist Andrew Bird, and alt-folk singer Ani DiFranco (whose vocals are processed beyond recognition on “Bye Bye Bees”). Not everyone performs on every track; instead, Sickafoose uses them when appropriate for his conceit.
There is much to get lost in: the sweet pairing of guitar and piano toward the end of “Bye Bye Bees”; the plaintive way the piano, bass and horns convey the mournful theme of “Pianos of the 9th Ward”; the wonderful use of celeste and plunger on the dirgelike march of “Paper Trombones”; the very pretty and very simple melody that constitutes “Whistle” (accentuated by some actual whistling by Bird). It’s all so hard to resist.