I have to confess to enjoying my music light on theory and my theory light on music. When I approach one and get too much of the other, disappointment is inevitable — as is the case with drummer Rich West’s Bedouin Hornbook.
According to Dorothea Grossman’s complimentary liner notes, Bedouin Hornbook offers “a surprising variety of moods and textures” and “knows the difference between self-expression and self-indulgence.” Grossman may have a sustainable point with her first assertion, but with the latter she’s really going out on a limb. The opening track, “Bugge,” sounds at the outset like Predator creeping through the Australian outback, gradually developing into a lot of studio tinkering accentuated by the arbitrary wail and moan of trumpet, and the ticks and plonks of percussion. Melody — that dull, outmoded concept — doesn’t enter the fray for quite some time, and when it does come, it bumbles onto the scene like a mariachi polka.
“Tribology” sounds as if it’s going for one of those delicious Hank Mobley or Freddie Hubbard heads, and for a moment things begin to look up. But the whole effort is so sloppy, so spastic, that it ought to make one stop and wonder what exactly West and his outfit are aiming for. Catharsis? Humor? Babel-like incomprehensibility? And when they reprise the didgeridoo sound of “Bugge” on “Twang,” it makes one stop again and wonder if their general aimlessness hasn’t left them wandering in circles.
Like so many conceptual artists and avant jazz musicians, I’m sure West has some inventive postmodern psychobabble to justify his excess, his nonsense, his mess. But I would counter at least one assertion made on his behalf with the fact that the creation of various moods and textures is not new to music, and it has been done with a lot more grace, intelligence and accessibility than anything found on Bedouin Hornbook. There is a lot to be said for this kind of approach towards improvisation and experimentation, but there also has to be some kind of intelligible anchor, else the whole undertaking drifts, as here, beyond the unreachable.