Well, if I say this is ‘progrock’, you’re definitely going to get the wrong impression, but there was a time, fleeting as it was, when this highly sophisticated kind of work began to get a toehold, only to too swiftly lose it in that genre. And should I call Uai So ‘neoclassical’, you’ll still not envision the sound, though you’ll be closer. ‘Avant-jazz’ would seem to be okay, but I’ve heard no idiomatic examples like this in many years, and the term usually applies to pointillistic blare-musics. I mean I love that kinda stuff, myself, but this CD never blares and isn’t schizophrenically unhinged, more a matter of, actually, what the whimsical Dr. Seuss might’ve composed, had he been a musician and ridiculously talented at it.
In its own much gentler way, Uai So is as radical as Art Zoyd or Univers Zero but completely stripped of the sturm und drag and nihilism, also much in league with many old RIO outfits boasting brainiacs who were classically trained and hellbent to drag the ancient and mostly dead form into the 20th century. Then there are the Roger Eno aspects, and “Lagrimas” sounds like Stravinsky or Faure working with early Gong.
Elsewhere, you’ll find intimations of Carla Bley, Penguin Café Orchestra, Tom Waits (his cabaret Gatsby period, without the darkness), Paul Bley, Fanfare Ciocarlia, Gavin Bryars, and, well, quite a few more BUT after all and sundry are sieved through the thoroughly unique perceptions of Benji Kaplan, a guy I’d never previously heard hint nor breath of but am now riveted by, the listener is always in a wonderful and wonderfully intelligent new clime, cut after cut.
From all that, you’d never guess Kaplan’s deeply rooted in Brazilian musics, but he is, and a close listen, once you recover from the stratospheric ensorcelments of every cut in this gem (as often vended from a Parisian café, wandering gypsy caravan, and modern art museum as from a Sao Paolo summer fest) lets this be known via a river flowing for decades and decades and decades…with a hundred tributaries. Every cut is manned by top-rate musicians who are wunderkind vets, as the passages, while smile-inducing, are exceedingly complicated and difficult. Kaplan’s vocalese is surprisingly akin to Lois Le Van’s and under just as usual circumstances. Van’s more the acrobat but both are adepts, and Kaplan’s heading for different but just as wild fields.
Early on, Kaplan invested much time and passion to being an uncompromising bebop quitarist…until he met the celebrated Brazilian composer Guinga at a music camp. Things changed swiftly and significantly but how he arrived at this juncture from bebop, I haven’t the vaguest clue. Thank God he did, however, and the degree of intelligence sunk into the deepest corners of ever beat and measure of this treasure tells us that no matter what his pursuit might otherwise have been, the result would’ve been simultaneously unearthly while uniquely terran. As I start to tabulate discs for the year’s-end Best Of, this is already in the top ranks of the list. It’s that thoroughly unique and arresting. Expect Danny Elfman to flip out when he hears it, and Jochen Becker’s going to howl when he realizes he missed catching such a rara avis for his impeccable Zoho label.