Skinny Vinny: The Answer to Everything
Andrew Eisenberg is the percussionist for the Boston, Mass. duo Skinny Vinnyand a conceptual mastermind. Equally adept with hammer, saw, trash can, pots and pans, or what have you, he can make you think, or muse, by knocking together a table, or banging a stick against a window. An early piece, a big white room with a steel door, was titled "The Answer to Everything." The answer was enclosed within the room. But the door was locked...
Skinny Vinny, from left: Joshua Jefferson, Andrew Eisenberg
No, Skinny Vinny doesn't have the answer, but they aim to pleaseif your pleasure is difficult, minimal improvised dissonance. Which, for many it is. And for many more, it is a pleasant surprise from a genre that isn't their cup of tea, or weapon of choice. But the duo is not about duels, or combat.
Joshua Jefferson is its alto saxophonist, and bass clarinetist. His deft reflexes and coordination make him a master of what could be called "protective mimicry," if he were not so original. His playing may evoke meadows rife with wildlife, the long trill of a hermit thrush underscored by the bellow of bullfrogsor, the roar of a crocodile splashing into the Everglades of his native Florida.
A quick study, he has developed his remarkable technique in a short period of time, having picked up the sax in his early twenties, taking lessons from Bhob Rainey of Nmperign. He is also a very fine collagist, drawing inspiration, in both his visual and sonic art, from Marcel Duchamp. He is uncannily adaptable. As a musician he jumps in and out of projects, his own and others, assimilating their conceptual nature and vigorously sharpening it. These projects, centered in the Boston area, combine and recombine with many of the same members overlapping in each.
Combining, recombining, collage, mimicry, camouflagethese are Jefferson's leitmotifs, keeping him always on the move and lookout for new connections, new ways of presenting the new music, new ways of relating to an audience, however limited that may often beand spurring fellow musicians to keep looking forward and incorporate the next bend or wrinkle in whatever's coming down the pipeline.
Take Skinny Vinny, with Eisenberg on their self-titled, self produced 2009 CD: Jefferson opens with his eloquent chirps and squeaks. Eisenberg mimes the mime, eking a sax-like squeal out of a cymbal with a violin bow. Eisenberg further abstracts this, as if processing it through a computer, yet it is all acoustic. In turn, Jefferson himself mimes this electronic vibe: the rapport and repartee evoke mechanical and electrical sounds of, say, an apartment or enclosed public space, random plumbing clunks, or electrical currents.
This keenness to environment, in this case urban, brings us full-circle to the meadows and glades we heard Jefferson conjure at the beginning. Eisenberg is Jefferson's equal in this power to let a dialogue deconstruct into its environment, and back. Following is what they had to say about that dialogue, in dialogue with me.
All About Jazz: Andrew: what's your musical background? Are you a late bloomer like Josh, or did you study when younger?
Andrew Eisenberg: Never studied music, ever. I've been involved with many different types of music for a very, very long time, and as soon I got out of high school and into college I was very much into electronic music, '94, '95,'96.
AAJ: Now would this be like electronica, or more like Morton Subotnick?
AE: Subotnick came later.
AAJ: So this would be like The Orb?
AE: Techno, ambient, different derivations of all that. Philadelphia was full of it. It was fantastic...I was going to school there, at Drexel. I didn't finish though, but I gave it a little bit of a shot. I got very much wrapped up in the music scene there, and very much into making art, but there was never any music school.
In '97-'98, I was still very much into electronic music, but I startedthere was a crossover at that time with making art, and I started making sculptures out of television sets, and leaving them on. And I was using record players and broken records, and I was playing with a friend who made improvised music out of little analog synthesizers. I was starting to get very much into that but I was definitely on the electronic music tip. I didn't get hip to the soundI didn't get introduced to the new sound [of improvised music] until '99.