One of the major figures in the San Francisco avant-jazz scene, guitarist/composer/arranger John Schott has a working knowledge of several musical genres, old and new. On this unusual album, he mixes excerpts from recordings made from 1888-1915 (except for a '40s forgery of someone claiming to be Walt Whitman reading "America") into his pieces. Performers include some of the best and most adventurous Bay Area musicians, including clarinetists Ben Goldberg and Beth Custer, Steve Adams of the Rova Saxophone Quartet, bassist Trevor Dunn, drummer Scott Amendola, and Cleveland Heights native Dan Plonsey, who went on to get degrees in math and music from Yale and an MA in composition from Mills College.
Schott has said that his goal was to develop "material from as many angles as possible: free improvisation, 'musique concrete,' postwar composition, AACM-derived strategies, and pop music." Sometimes these idioms are juxtaposed, but more often they're integrated, and tracks vary considerably in length. The ancient recordings themselves range from a 4,000-voice chorus at a Handel festival to a lady named Mrs. Shaw whistling in 1888 to a snake dance song sung by Passamaquoddy Indians. It's intense, colorful music, a collage of avant-garde styles that may appeal to non-avant-garde listeners, because most of the 28 tracks are brief, varied, and exciting. All sorts of unusual instrumental combinations are used, including an accordion-guitar duo. Some of the music is funky; much of it is humorous. Plonsey takes a biting, well-constructed alto sax solo on "Poor Mourner Intro," demonstrating that he, too, is a man to be reckoned with.