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The Treehouse Project - The Picture Show
Jazz Weekly review
Ken Waxman

Usually when people talk about jazz-fusion, the music being defined is attached to showy instrumental rock. Other familiar fusions involve yoking a jazz sensibility to Latin American timbres or to so-called classical music. But on this three-CD set the five plus members of The Treehouse Project have created their own fusion.

It's a double fusion in fact. First of all, these Chicago-area players have added a jazz sensibility to roots music, coming up with the sort of sounds that may have resulted if anyone had a record of the legendary episode Charlie Parker was supposed to have sat in with a hillbilly band. Secondly, each of the three CDs treats the songs in different ways. The third disc finds the band doing nightclub style instrumental versions of folk, pop and rock hits initially recorded by folks like Cream, Dusty Springfield, Ray Charles and Ron Sexsmith. The second CD -- and centrepiece of the project -- contains 13 compositions written by drummer Michael Reed, reflecting the messages and ideas he gleaned from a number of home snapshots. The first session takes this idea even further, with all band members shown another random group of photos, usually taken in suburban settings, and asked to create musical stories that reflect them all...

Jazz-rooted good time music characterizes Reed's vision, with 13 different photos examined in slightly more than 39 minutes. Contributing to this ambiance are the post-country, pedal steel guitar contributions of Ken Champion. Someone who has recorded with Chicago avant rocker Jim O'Rourke, the ringing tones emanating from his eight-string open up new sound vistas. On "Dance Lesson," for instance, a slinky Henry Mancini-style number, his resoundings meld with Reed's rim shots, suggesting what would have happened if George Benson had discovered country music before Ray Charles did.

"Curtain," on the other hand, which opens with a shimmering glissando provided by guest Lisa Shrag's harp, suggests the steel's Hawaiian background. When his pedal lines meet guest Nate Walcott's finely-arched trumpeting plus the raspy honk of John Doyle's tenor saxophone and Colin Bunn's guitar fuzztones, the tune wavers between rock and rockabilly. Maybe this is what Bill Haley's Saddlemen sounded like before they became the Comets.

Doyle, who has put in time with the Wabash Jug Band as well as one led by jazz drummer Dave Pavkovic, not only enlivens tunes like the Latinesque "Ugliest Girl Alive" with his sax playing, but shows a command of both registers of the clarinet throughout. Especially noteworthy is his abstruse liquid tone on "The Big Top," adding to Reed's subtle rim shots and drumstick percussion, while somebody or somebodies manages to produce a circus-like calliope sound. The licorice stick is much in evidence on "The Cocktail Party Effect," which despite its title has a guitar-guided melody that sounds as if it came off of a 1930s tap dance session.

Guitarist Bunn, who is part of Kevin O'Doyle's Quality Six retro swing band, proves here that he can channel Carl Kress, when he isn't being Link Wray on rock tunes such as "A Perfect Fit." Throughout, Matt Thompson holds steady a solid bass line, easily explaining how his experience has encompassed blues with the Mighty Blue Kings and jazz with Chicago's legendary tenor man Von Freeman.

[excerpted here.. the full review appears at www.jazzweekly.com]

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