Boy-Girl Band: Drop Your Leotards! (2004)
This is one of those albums where one of the worst things to be said about it is it makes lousy background music.
Boy-Girl Band is a Colorado-based quartet (two men, two women) whose name suggests they're part of some raging teeny-bopper trip-hop scene. It's actually a group of accomplished musicians whose debut album, Drop Your Leotards!, is an eclectic mix of modernistic jazz, free improvisation and extremely odd spoken interludes. Too much multitasking, in other words, for listeners to do their own if they want to get the most out of this session.
Keeping up with the ever-changing concepts is relatively easy for an experimental album, since most of the seventeen tracks are a fairly short three to five minutes long. It helps this isn't an hour of free-flung madness. "Dancing" is a smooth funk composition with an almost sweet voice from saxophonist Jayn Pettingill that could soundtrack a shady scene in an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. "Night Prowler" features an addicting blend of modernistic and ethnic drumming by Art Lande with minimal other instrumentation, but is cloyed somewhat by some randomly sprinkled nonsense vocals.
Or consider what happens during three consecutive songs in the middle titled "Earth Observed," "Alien Invasion" and "Life Returns To Normal." The first is ambient trance. The second adds a metallic voice issuing all kinds of unusual instructions and pronouncements, including the title lyrics of "drop your leotards" (along with others like "redistribute your sandwiches" and "place your combs by the fountain"). The final piece is at its roots a mid-tempo Dixieland swing, with Pettingill offering a playful and repetitive reassurance vamp on clarinet.
Then there are the more "expected" moments. "Brushfire" and "Existential Crisis" are pure up-tempo freeform, but even then disciplined snippets of swing and post bop keep sneaking in. Highlights on the latter, for instance, feature Takahshi's off-color chord crunching trading shifts with Pettingill's rapidly swinging Coltrane/Coleman blend.
Four brief "dream" pieces toward the end of the album continue the wide-ranging theme. Bassist Doug Anderson plays a slow, simple and thoughtful set of solo passages on the appropriately named "Lyrical Dream." At the other end is the more eclectic group madness of "Disturbing Dream," where percussion sounds from various instruments take on a Stravinsky-like cadence.
Like nouveau theater, judgment about this album will likely vary widely depending on the taste of potential listeners. It's more listenable than many avant-garde and free jazz albums, in part because of the range and accessibility of many compositions, but may not be "out there" enough for those looking for the extreme cutting edge. Hopefully Boy-Girl Band won't care if opinions run a wide range, since there's no questioning the pure artistry of their debut, and anyone hooked by it will doubtless be curious to see what other ideas they may have in play.
Track Listing: Dawn; Daily Activities; Dancing; Confession; Brushfire; Earth Observed; Alien Invasion; Life Returns To Normal; Night Prowler; Existential Crisis; Adult Scene #4; Her Journey; Lyrical Dream; Magical Dream; Weird Dream; Disturbing Dream; Snake-Rat-Fish
Personnel: Jayn Pettingill, saxophone; Emily Takahashi, piano; Doug Anderson, bass guitar; Art Lande, drums