The origins of Ballroom Dance Is Dead began in 2006 when New Orleans based producer / bassist Grant W. Curry joined forces with guitarist / composer and Brooklyn native Lynn Wright. The duo wanted to create a project that would explore Eno-esque minimalism and at the same time have it collide with the avant-garde, free jazz styling of Sonny Sharrock. This self titled debut effort is the first of what the duo hopes will be an ongoing series of recordings that will feature, in addition to themselves, a cast of different musicians on each outing. Joining Curry and Wright for this first go round are Tony Nozero on drums and electronics, and Mike Dillon on tabla and percussion.
Musically this debut album isn't typically avant-garde or even that experimental as for the most part these instrumental compositions rely on their warm, richly layered textures and subtle melodic elements to set the overall tone and mood. Things unfortunately get off to a bit of a sluggish start as the first two tracks, the dub style musings of "Damascus" and the slow, deliberate pace of "Carnival Dirge" don't really take the listener anywhere. They're not necessarily bad songs; however thier somewhat repetitious nature make them come off as simply background music. Thankfully by third track "Elysium", the listener is rewarded for their patience and the fireworks begin. Nozero's laid back drum accents and Curry's bass ostinatos allow Wright ample room to stretch out with some of his finest, jagged, improvised guitar work. "Goodbye To All This" is a melodic up tempo number that skips along with a meaty bass groove as Wright applies liberal amounts of echoed guitar textures before a dash of buzzing electronics close things out. The final track is the real coup though, as they turn in an absolutely brilliant run through of John Coltrane's "India". While they do keep much of the basic melody of the original intact, as well as the main opening and closing themes, everything else in between is a veritable free for all, especially as far as Wright is concerned. Mike Dillon's exotic percussion on tabla coupled with Nozero's delicate and articulate drumming propel the rhythm's along as this track swells to almost thirteen minutes in length. Wright appears and reappears throughout, each time upping the ante with one searing, abstract solo after another. This track should definitely command your attention for its full duration.
Ballroom Dance Is Dead is certainly a promising opening statement from these relative newcomers. When they do decide to turn up the heat, the results definitely make for a more engaging and well rounded listen. As mentioned there are quite a few moments of that here, however I'd be interested to hear what their future material would sound like if they traded in some of the pastoral atmospherics and concentrated a bit more on the harder, avant-garde aspect.
2) Carnival Dirge
4) Goodbye To All This