A tour through Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast makes the listener wonder whether David Rothenberg (clarinet, bass clarinet and electronics) and Lewis Porter (piano and keyboard) challenged themselves to play in as many different styles as they could over the course of a dozen tunes.
Some of these tunes are beautiful duets: the tender, acoustic, “Lush Life”-like ballad that gives the album its name, marked by Rothenberg’s alternately rueful and playful clarinet; the faithful cover of “Nature Boy,” with Rothenberg stating the melody over Porter’s chords, arpeggios, accents and other accoutrements, and then improvising wonderfully off the melody. Some tracks are marked by innovative twists on familiar genres: a straight-ahead version of Stephen Foster’s hymn-like “Hard Times Come Again No More”; a slinky, funky tune called “Bennie M Is Back” (referencing bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin, no doubt), that is reminiscent of the Pink Panther theme, with electronic percussion added in for good measure; the cover of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” on which Rothenberg flutters his clarinet over a discordant piano vamp.
And then some tracks are just plain weird: a free-jazz exchange called “What I Remember From Jazz School” with a (probably overdubbed) synth line, and a bizarre take on Foster’s bluesy “Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground” that culminates with the two musicians using their instruments to make insect noises at each other.
So what do we make of this oddball effort from two jazz musicians, scholars, educators and authors? Easy: They are enjoying themselves. And so is the listener.