Miles Davis was once quoted as saying “…I’ll just walk into the ocean and die, if I lose my tone.” All musicians, whether they admit it so freely or not, are seeking that elusive tone that defines them. Granted, Kathryn Ladano has a slight advantage in that the bass clarinet has not been an instrument of choice for most musicians. But therein, also, lies the challenge, and she handily tames the beast. Her tone is clearly the product of long practice, natural creativity and, most importantly, soul.
Part soundtrack to, perhaps, a playfully dystopian horror film, part sound/texture experiment, but all done with intention and purpose, Open reveals mastery behind apparently random strings of notes. For those conditioned by mainstream jazz and pop to expect chordal resolutions, most tracks on this record will not satisfy. And fair enough. From the outset it’s musically made clear that Open is not here to hold your hand. But play it through, especially on quality headphones, until your understanding of the pieces (if you’ll pardon the play on the title) opens. Once it does, there are treasures around every corner, in the low growls, the trills and flutters, the engaging uncertainty of what might happen next.
Scattered throughout, other instruments including xylophone, guitar, piano and a double bass, competently attempt to add to the melee. But it’s Ladano’s clarinet that soars. We’re tugged to and fro at varying paces and volumes, always with the understanding that what you find here, through your willing investment of time and thought, is your own discovery. Real jolts come as well, as after the first five truly hypnotic improvisation tracks comes the startling drum crash intro of Art Show (Improvisation), probably the most mainstream jazz-like song of the tracks here. Later, there’s the wonderful silliness of Evil Kirk, complete with spoken word quotations of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (provided with obvious glee by Ladano’s brother, Mike).
Open will surely not be for everyone, but for those willing to strap in and hold on, it will reveal itself to be the conceptually strong, musically thoughtful record that it is.