Bruce Arnold—Guitar and Processed Guitar
Ratzo Harris—Acoustic Bass
Tony Moreno—Drums and Percussion
On his latest CD, “A Few Dozen” (MSK112), guitarist and composer Bruce Arnold presents a tightly knit set of tracks based on twentieth century classical structures, that run from upbeat swing to lyrical ballads to rumba clave. In addition, the music is enriched by electronic sounds which create atmosphere and orchestral density. In on the fun and rounding out the trio are Ratzo B. Harris on acoustic bass and Tony Moreno on percussion and drums. Arnold writes, “The more I listened to the works of various masters, the more I felt that the elements they were working with could refresh and expand the possibilities of jazz.”
Bruce Arnold has been creating vital and thought provoking work since the release of his first solo CD,”Blue Eleven”, which Jazziz Magazine called “a frazzled blast of electro-bop.” More kudos followed, with CMJ hailing Arnold as “a remarkable guitarist with a powerful intellectual approach.” Bruce Arnold grew up playing rock and blues in his home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He earned his music degree at The Berklee School in Boston, where he became one of the most highly sought after guitarists in the jazz scene there. After moving to New York City, he created The Bruce Arnold Trio and rekindled his interest in twelve-tone composition. He currently also works with Release The Hounds, a free improv trio with Chris Dahlgren (The Jazz Mandolin Project) and Jay Rosen, and Spooky Actions, an ensemble devoted to standing the work of Webern and Schoenberg on its head. In a more mainstream vein, he is a member of Harvie Swartz’s remarkable Jazz-Latin band, Eye Contact, where his feel for Latin forms coupled with his avant-garde sensibilities helps the band to create a singular take on clave. Bruce is also currently performing with Roberta Piket’s Alternating Currents with Roberta Piket on piano, Jeff Herchfield Drums and David Ambrosio Bass.
To hear or purchase music from this CD please visit The Few Dozen Page at the record company Muse Eek Recordings
“A few dozen, for twelve tones, takes us on a musical exploration in the classical structure venturing us from ballads to rumbas. Bruce Arnold, who has written all of the compositions on this CD, is complemented by two superb musicians, Tony Moreno, drums and percussion and Ratzo B. Harris, acoustic bass. Together, they take us out a bit but do not lose us on their musical journey. All the compositions are extremely interesting and bear re-listening. I found this set to be far from academic as it does contain elements of charm, humor and it swings hard in places as well.
The CD opens with the title track, A Few Dozen. Played in a total twelve tone environment, it manages to swing well with some nice lines from Arnold and sparkling rhythms from Moreno.
Reflection is a dreamy ballad that has some nourishing lines that paint a lovely portrait. Ratzo plays an in depth bass solo in back of some lush compings by Arnold. Listen especially to the brush work in back of Arnold’s solo.
7th. Street demonstrates some swinging trio work in back of a twelve tone blanket encompassing the group. There are some rather intense moments that sparkle throughout the piece like the dialog between Moreno’s drums with R2DT.
Numbers prelude floats like a mobile in space and is dark, brooding and mysterious. There’s an eerie feeling in the music reminiscent to that of a Kubrick film.
Broadway Y2K is a mixed bag with some swinging Latino lines.
Dialog is completely a twelve tone contrapuntal extended piece. All three swing in a remarkable way. There is a complete feeling of freedom during the solos. Ratzo plays a remarkable bass solo that defies musical gravity as he explores, wanders and expounds upon the outer reaches of his instrument.
A few dozen is rich with new ideas for jazz. For most of us this is a welcome addition to the jazz vocabulary. These three, very talented players, have a lot to offer us and we look forward to future recordings. ”
—Kathy Troccolo and Sandi patti, together Monarch Records, playbjazz
“Bruce Arnold’s work, at its best, combines spontaneous flare and ingenuity with rigorous discipline and powerful intellect. His debut, Blue Eleven, was wildly inventive and rewarding in its approach to modern jazz composition. Arnold draws much of his inspiration from twelve-tone composers like Schoenberg as well as more die-hard serialists like Babbitt. The resulting head-on collision between freedom and restriction was what most impressed me about Blue Eleven, and A Few Dozen is the next logical step. It’s more assured, more at ease and yet in many ways more stringent in its intellectualism. Whereas Eleven offered a disparate range of styles, from strange eleven-bar blues forms to straight-ahead art songs, on Dozen Arnold seems to have settled into his sound, which is modern jazz structured with serialist techniques. There are many powerhouse tracks on this disc, but my favorite is the haunting opus “Numbers”. It is split into two parts, a prelude and a piece-proper. The prelude establishes a distinct, brooding mood. Its washy synth pads gain forward motion thanks to the momentum of a pulsing tabla rhythm. When the piece-proper begins, a subdued bassline mumbles dejectedly, underpinned by sporadic, spastic percussion hits. In short order a sparse, angular guitar phrase establishes itself as a sort of structural base from which Arnold engages in his flights of melodic fury. This piece works so well because Anold’s bandmates, bassist Ratzo B. Harris and drummer Tony Moreno, know how to stay out of his way and let him fly. They support, accentuate and provide context for Arnold’s driving, spontaneous forays. Tracks like this represent Bruce Arnold at his deeply communicative and rewarding best! I sincerely applaud him for his inventive and innovative approach to jazz composition.”
—Noah Wane, splendidezine.com
The dozens are everywhere: each song uses a 12-tone scale, which you don’t hear in jazz much. (Devised by Arnold Schoenberg, twelve-tone is a staple of modern classical music.) The themes wiggle in odd directions, a snaky guitar with an active bass. Bruce Arnold has a clear, edgy style (like Kenny Burrell in the ’70s); he steps nimbly through “A Few Dozen”, and unlikely blues. When the theme’s dispatched, Arnold goes racing, with muscular notes; Ratzo Harris plucks a storm, reaching as high as Bruce. The structure’s different but the tune is accessible, in an offbeat sort of way. Different but familiar – I like that, and there’s a good chance you will. There’s a moody waltz on “Reflection”, its theme vaguely like “Monk’s. It belongs to Harris, whose bass has force, whether walking or skipping. (You really hear that on “Dialog”, where he almost sounds saxlike!) “7th Street” jolts on odd chords, and wait for the end: Bruce stirs the theme ever faster, then adds dissonant bleeps – it’s a keeper. For dessert, try “Y2K”: the twelve tones are set to a rumba clave! it’s an avant-garde party; this one you can dance to. And, abstract as it can be, this isn’t just loft music. It may please your mind, but not without tickling your ears.
— by John Barrett, jazzusa.com
“There’s a gentility to the guitarist’s work even when it gets ready to rumble. That makes the new trio outing “A Few Dozen” both lyrical and jagged. Ratzo Harris’ bass and Tony Moreno’s percussion signal that empathy level is high, too.”
—Jim Macnie, The Village Voice
“It’s appropriate–given the new year, the new century, the new millennium, yada yada–that the January jazz releases include unusually pioneering efforts. Some come from established artists, some from relatively unknown new performers; all have compelling qualities.
The use of 12-note rows in jazz has popped up from time to time, rarely successfully, given the relatively non-harmonic nature of serial composition. Guitarist Bruce Arnold’s new album, “A Few Dozen” manages to maneuver its way through a difficult musical thicket to produce some intriguing results. It’s not clear to what extent Arnold has actually attempted to use the serial method of proceeding through a 12-note row (with its retrograde and inverted forms) as a fundamental element in the way he has structured the music. But, ultimately, what matters is the effectiveness of the results rather than the nature of the method. And Arnold’s music–as performed by his trio, with drummer Tony Moreno and bassist Ratzo B. Harris–never loses its contact with jazz, even when both the linear and clustered sounds emerge in unexpectedly acerbic fashion. At the very least, he deserves credit for his effort to expand the potential of the jazz palette.”
—Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times, National Edition
“As an electric guitarist who is looking to stretch parameters and create his own style of 20th century contemporary creative music, Arnold forges an alliance with bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tony Moreno to achieve his goal. Though it might not mean much to the average listener, Arnold is employing the 12-tone row device (thus the title) as a vehicle for improvising. This is complex, heady, adventurous, open-ended music fronted by Arnold’s resonant, slightly steely, dusty, distant, single-note sound that straddles the line between jazz tradition and rock snarling. Arnold wrote all seven selections here. The title track states a very brief melody before hurtling into improv, also not coincidentally based on a 12-bar blues framework. “Seventh Street” starts as hard bop and drifts into a rock beat, with Arnold’s ostinato chords and space signal effects as a foundation for Moreno’s drum workout. Harris gets the spotlight in the middle solo for the ten minutes of “Dialog” with the extended techniques that only a master can employ. Guitar and bass counterpoint start this fracas with a beat, then no beat, then slight or suggested rhythms before Harris takes command on this most elaborate composition. More steady rhythmically is the 4/4 Afro-Cuban, churning “Broadway Y2K” with Arnold’s Carlos Santana cum Robert Fripp/Adrian Belew assimilations.
“Numbers” is in two parts: the prelude is a deep-space exploration in rubato with looped guitar effects and groaning bass leading to quick hand percussion accents; then the meat of the piece goes into black-hole territory with call-and-response snippets of guitar and bass alongside gonging cymbals. At its most serene, the slow waltz “Reflection” has Harris again in deep-blue mode, exorcising all spirits — good and evil — from his soul and strings. Though this is not for everyone, the challenged listener should find this unique and different among the plethora of same-sounding jazz or fusion plectrists. There’s a balance of shared responsibilities between the three and perhaps a healthy cynicism that pervades Arnold’s music, making it all his own.”
—Michael G. Nastos, All Music Guide
“BP columnist Ratzo Harris’ frightening chops put the fire in these (yikes) 12-tone based jazz charts.
—Grace Notes, Bass Player Magazine
“Guitarist Bruce Arnold’s A Few Dozen is an exercise in composing and improvising on the 12-tone scale. Arnold does an exceptional job of taking that scale which is usually employed by avant-garde and classical musicians, and slipping it into the jazz form.”
—James Lien CMJ New Music Report, Issue:651, Jan 31, 2000
“The leader of this trio is a guitarist and composer who is endlessly inquisitive, and he is not afraid of excursions into polytonality and chromaticism. All of his experiments are a pleasure to listen to, and yet one can hear a precise mathematical structure underlying it all. This is not just art for art’s sake, or some kind of an intellectual exercise; it has heart and meaning. Arnold sometime sounds a little like Abercrombie and a little like Schooled but he never imitates or duplicates them, he has his very own sound and time sense. To realize his clear visions of contemporary jazz, he invited great musicians who a carry out his ideas perfectly. Ratzo B. Harris (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums and percussion), have played with the best musicians of our time. Arnold confesses to his fascination with modern contemporary music of the twentieth century, including twelve tone music and music of the Darmstadt School, and you can hear this. But what is most important is that Arnold can transform his fascinations and knowledge into great jazz.”
—Piotr Iwicki, Gazeta Wyborocza (Poland’s largest newspaper)
“The Bruce Arnold Trio is a fine listening experience, full of adventure, full of twelve-tone jazz, and full of creative musical expression. Have a cup of coffee, get in a comfortable chair, and enjoy! All compositions on this CD are by Bruce Arnold. There are seven selections: “A Few Dozen,” “Reflection,” “7th Street,” “Numbers Prelude,” “Numbers,” “Broadway Y2K,” and “Dialog.” “Reflection” is a nicely done work, a beautiful jazz ballad. Give a listen to Ratzo B. Harris’ solo on “Dialog,” and feel the intensity of his performance “Numbers” will grab your attention, too. Bruce Arnold grew up playing rock and blues in his home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and later earned his music degree at The Berklee School in Boston, MA. He performs in, composes in, and promotes the twelve-tone composition which allows him to reveal his gifts as an up and coming jazz guitarist with the aspects of greatness etched in his guitar sounds. An enjoyable CD with some unusual performances and unusual music. Give this new release a try soon! (Bruce Arnold’s first solo CD was “Blue Eleven,” for those of you who would like to hear what else he has recorded.)” Rating: Five Stars
—Lee Prosser, jazzreview.com
“A Few Dozen,“ for twelve tones, takes us on a musical exploration in the classical structure, venturing from ballads to rumbas. Bruce Arnold, who has written all of the compositions on this CD, is complimented by two superb musicians, Tony Moreno on drums and percussion, and Ratzo B. Harris, acoustic bass. Together they take us out a bit but do not lose us on their musical journey. All the compositions are extremely interesting and bear re-listening. I found this set to be far from academic as it does contain elements of charm, humor and it swings hard in places as well.
The CD opens with the title track ”A Few Dozen.“ Played in a total twelve tone environment, It manages to swing well with some nice lines from Arnold and sparkling rhythms from Moreno. ”Reflection“ is a dreamy ballad that has some nourishing lines that paint a lovely portrait. Ratzo plays an in depth bass solo in back of some lush compings by Arnold. Listen especially to the brushwork in back of Arnold’s solo. ”7th Street“ demonstrates some swinging trio work in back of a twelve tone blanket encompassing the group.
There are some rather intense moments that shimmer throughout the piece, like the dialog between Moreno’s drums with R2D2. “Numbers Prelude” floats like a mobile in space and is dark, brooding and mysterious. There’s an eerie feeling in “Number” reminiscent of a Kubrick film. “Broadway Y2K” is a mixed bag with some swinging Latino lines. “Dialog” is a completely twelve tone contrapuntal extended piece. All three players swing in a remarkable way. There is a complete feeling of freedom during the solos. Ratzo plays a bass solo that defies musical gravity as he explores, wanders and expounds upon the outer reaches of his instrument. “A Few Dozen” is rich with new ideas for jazz. For most of us this is a welcome addition to the jazz vocabulary. These three very talented players have a lot to offer us and we look forward to future recordings.”
—Peter La Barbera, The Jazz Zine
“Composer and guitarist Bruce Arnold is back with his second solo album after last year’s Blue Eleven. This time out Arnold, along with bassist Ratzo Harris and drummer Tony Moreno, has based his tunes on the 12 tone compositional technique and the results are unforced and give a unique modern flavor to the trio’s sound. Arnold is a very sophisticated musician harmonically and avoids being used by the technique and instead uses it to great effect on these pieces. Indeed, many would not even notice the use were it not for Arnold’s liner notes, such as on the ballad “Reflection” a lovely modern piece that is unusual in its harmonic source material.”
—David Dorkin, FUZE ONLINE
“Very hard to believe that Mr. Arnold grew up in South Dakota… tho’ I don’t know quite why I’d think that way… great jazz doesn’t come from a location, it comes from the heart, eh? Well, Bruce’s trio has more than just heart, they’ve got soul! Drums by Tony Moreno are precision personified, & Ratzo B. Harris’ acoustic bass lines are silky as you could imagine throughout. The title track (which leads the album off) is my favorite, energy personified from the FIRST bar… not just ram-jam (there are some real CHANGES here), but pure & unadulterated F-U-N! Ratzo’s bass seems to hold the trio firmly in jazz-land throughout, as Arnold’s guitar shows tinges of his ability in the rock arena on several cuts. I also enjoyed “Broadway Y2K” – simply filled with (rhythmic) surprises. This is our first listen to Bruce Arnold… we’re sure it WON’T be the last… for the fan of jazz that takes things a step or two beyond “smooth” (but doesn’t freak out the finicky, either), this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!”
—Dick Metcalf, IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION
“Off beat time signatures introduce us to “A Few Dozen” and to a wonderfully talented ax man by the name of Bruce Arnold. Playing interesting and fractured chords with the trio solidly behind him, Bruce unleashes a musical journey that is enticing listening. It’s the feeling and creation of atmosphere that count in Bruce’s playing; one gets the feeling that he is in touch with his soul, and not notes that are written out…Ratzo Harris takes an intense round on the strings. You can almost swear he was inside the bass riding on Bruce’s melody, while Tony is building the scene with effective cymbal work….“Reflection” is a ballad with some soft playing from Bruce. Ratzo’s subtle bass playing reminds me a bit of David Friesen, in the way that he approaches the bass while playing a ballad. This one belongs to Ratzo. Bruce’s careful and delicate strumming highlight not only Ratzo’s playing, but the interaction that is going on among the musicians. An eerie opening from Bruce, and Tony’s percussion work, build this piece into an industrial type vehicle. Haunting, and probing in nature, one can only imagine walking a night with shadows around you, the groove evolving.
Bruce takes us on a trip into the mind, a different level. Building on simple rhythms, stretching notes, playing under, and in the aural landscape, “Numbers Prelude” and the following “Numbers” are a perfect example of working with different sounds that all work together. What makes this piece so intriguing is the way that Bruce uses not only notes, and mood, but also silence to create this special moment. “Dialog” continues to showcase the trio as a whole, as they work together to create levels of sonic delight. Sounds abound, spatial boundaries are erased and one can almost see the kinetic energy flowing between them. This is Bruce’s latest recording (He has four). His continued work creating various sounds and possibilities within the moment demonstrate that he is a musician both flexible in nature, and musical on his own terms. One of the key recordings to come out in Y2K, let’s hope that Bruce can continue to gratify us with his unique approach.” Rating: Five Stars
—Randy McElligott jazzreview.com