Ache & Flutter (2013)

Empty Room Music CD (2013)

Recorded: 19 Feb 2013; Released: 2013

Personnel:

Track Listing:

  1. Whim, 2:59
  2. Heart Like a Rabbit, 5:10
  3. Doorways, 5:36
  4. May, 6:17
  5. The Spontaneous Combustion of Shayna Dulberger, 1:08
  6. Cookie Cutter, 8:00
  7. The Heart and the Lungs, 2:50
  8. Myopia, 1:31
  9. Lowed, 3:24
  10. Crestfallen, 2:43
  11. Angel Beats Demon, 2:02

This album represents a giant leap forward for Shayna Dulberger. Though she has played regularly in New York since 2005 in a wide variety of contexts and appeared on many other recordings, this is the boldest display of her talents both as a bassist and composer, to date. A great deal takes place on this album on multiple levels. Whereas the surface is busy with a great number of interesting ideas like a colorful egg, Dulberger has managed to also fill the depths of her compositions with all manner of delicious morsels that one has to ponder in order to fully digest.

Dulberger is joined here by a number of talented musicians: her husband and long-time collaborator Chris Welcome on guitar, the full-toned Yoni Kretzmer on tenor saxophone, and the electrifying Carlo Costa on drums. These are musicians drawn from varied contexts: Dulberger and Welcome attended music school at Rutgers together; Kretzmer arrived in New York in 2010, having spent a number of years playing on the Tel Aviv scene; and Costa is from Rome, Italy, but active in New York since 2005, after studying music in Boston. Their diverse origins make the music on this album all the richer, each bringing a degree of energy and whit to Dulberger’s compositions.

The album contains seven pieces for quartet, interspersed with four short solo bass tracks (1, 5, 8, and 11). Dulberger is the grounding presence throughout the album as she shifts from group to solo work, laying out an underlying cohesion that resonates throughout the record. The solo pieces also serve to give the music some topographical diversity by building space between the more heated sections driven by the other three musicians, and the short, yet energetic solos. All four of these players play with an intensity and an energy that allow them to speak together in one complex, but unified voice.

The opening piece, “Whim,” immediately introduces the audience to Dulberger’s musical personality: active, energetic, playful, and uninhibited. “Heart Like a Rabbit” follows with an opening duet of guitar and bass, building to a trio with drums, and then finally the full quartet as each member of the band, in turn, steps out from behind the curtain. The song builds to where Kretzmer takes center stage with the other three musicians working around him with intricate textures and constant energy. The third piece, “Doorways,” is one of the most interesting pieces on the album, in terms of structure and interaction. The musicians do something of an acrobatics display creating hoops through which each temporarily featured member bursts. Welcome is remarkably subtle in his melodic moments. Costa’s drum solo is the climax of the piece as he textures his playing by creating sharp sounds from the side of the drum together with the fuller tones of the head.

“May” is an emotionally complex piece as it oscillates between the freshness of late spring and the intense heat of summer–shifting back and forth in two and half full cycles. Kretzmer is at the center of this turning wheel, beginning with a relaxed tone, but able to ascend into sharper attacks with the help of Welcome, while Dulberger and Costa provide an intense interchange beneath the front line that builds until the bassist’s crisp solo crowns the piece. The feeling of a grander certainty brought into question by temporary pitfalls is pervasive throughout the song.

After a fiery solo, the quartet returns for the most complex and challenging piece on the album. At first glance, “Cookie Cutter,” seems to be a song with an identity crisis, but after delving beneath the surface, there are a great number of layers of tone and texture here to consider. Dulberger creates an unsettling feeling with the overt structure of the piece that she then calls into question by adding dashes of dissonance. Through this process, she critiques the grotesque spectacle of convention and conformity, while presenting an array of ephemeral doorways that point toward alternatives. In many ways, “Cookie Cutter” serves as the center piece of the album–it is positioned at the midpoint and is by far the longest–and is the most daring. The song provides Welcome his greatest exposure on the record.

The final three pieces serve to further frame an already interesting and complex record. “Lowed” is the greatest display of the pure energy of the four musicians with Kretzmer leading with fire and the others in hot pursuit. Costa offers some of his more brilliant touches to the piece before it ends with surprising cohesion. Much of the music to this point has a refreshingly happy feel to it without losing its edge, but “Crestfallen” is the emotional foil to that building positivity: it contrasts the rest of the record with its vertical trajectory and its uneasy ambience that sits beneath the dissonant and even abrasive yelps from Kretzmer and Welcome. Despite being less than three minutes, this song transforms the entire album and increases its emotional depth. The final piece, well-titled as “Angel Beats Demon,” provides a succinct, minimalist conclusion to the growing uneasiness, and leaves the listener with a sense of peace.

Dulberger has come into her own with this remarkable achievement in composition and artistic vision. In future years as we look back upon her career, this will certainly stand out as a pivotal moment not only in her development as a musician, but also in terms of her contributions to her generation’s involvement in New York’s growing creative music scene.