Artful Traum Release

Who's more American than Mark Twain? Old Sam Clemens' folk humor runs as enduringly and steadily through the land as the muddy Mississippi. Yet, as Gore Vidal pointed out in New York Review a few weeks ago amidst his defense of Twain from the Freudian attack of a particularly "repellent" biographer, Twain lived for 17 years in Europe. A logical reason cited by Vidal is that his talents received greater recognition and admiration on the Continent than at home.

The exceptional American musicians who have been experiencing more receptive climates of appreciation over there and chalking it up to the marketing structure for creative artists in the U.S. can at least take heart in the observation that this is nothing new. One of those exceptional artists, Artie Traum, has just released an intoxicating collection of compositions, titled The View From Here, which interestingly features a decidedly European tint.

The opening piece, co-written with pianist Vinnie Martucci, borrows its title from Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. A soothing and smoothing flight on lifting sound currents which bring the touch of technology (in Martucci's keyboard string arrangement) to what might be termed folk jazz, the tune draws the listener gracefully into position for Traum's masterfully measured acoustic touch. There's an interwoven sense of healing waters in the fluidity the bass and guitar lines which suggests that this might be a good recovery ward for the treatment of Pesky Varmint fans.

A buttery cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman," recorded at Fattburger Studios in California, introduces the breathy-light vocalizing of Argentina's Garbiela Anders, with a bit of background brace from Eugene Ruffolo, as Traum works his fingerboard wonders over another New Age technological touch; drum programming by Kevin Koch. One wonders what Django Reinhardt would have made of the term "drum programming."

"The Passenger," another Traum-Martucci piece, takes a brief hand-off from Ron Finck's saxophone and shifts gear on bassist Tony Levin's prowling pivots, enjoying Josh Colow's electric guitar framework. "Abracadabra" offers Anders' under-your-skin vocal lead up front on her own composition with the infecting sort of gossamer treatment that makes the soundtracks of some French film so endearingly distinctive. Traum's guitar presence dances with the voice in a heady mix over Peter Bunetta's drums and some spare, delightful percussive edges from Bashiri Johnson.

Warren Bernhardt joins the cast of 27 sterling guest musicians on "Ferry To Panarea," a Traum-Colow-Robbie Dupree number. The guests here are showcased and shine as more than mere accompanists, however celebrated. Traum's guitar is strikingly featured, rather than having the songs built around it, and his acoustic steel string and nylon work anchors a range of variety which beams its own glow. Colow's electric part is lapped by Finck's laid back sax, which brings it home for Artie's fade-off.

"Bermuda Triangle" follows as naturally as the next movement of a finely accented and balanced suite, building with subtle drama and leading to the curious cross-bred feel of Traum's "Amazon, River of Dreams," which was covered by The Band on their Jericho album and comes across in quite a different vein on Josh Colow's lead vocal here.

Debbie Lan's keyboard string arrangement on the title track brings an notable character to the pensive blend and exchange of guitar, bass and drums before we're guided into "Allora Si," sung in Italian by Anders and Michael Franks. The song is written by Pino Daniele, a name not as familiar here as U.S. artists are in Europe but, like Steinar Albrigtsen (whom?) [Is this meant to be part of the article?] is huge in Norway, Daniele is a star in Italy, where Colow, Traum and other American artists have recently enjoyed considerable success; a fact to which much of mainstream America also remains oblivious. All which raises the question of whether Traum is importing European tones to an American audience or tailoring his American jazz to an overseas ear.

"Dark Passage," stark, moody and engrossing, if a tad too brief, is followed by "Horses," a Diego Spitaleri song recorded in Sicily and highlighting some great piano work by its author, and Monte & Heather, a superb double guitar study. Eclipse In Ibiza wraps it up with restrained flourish on a gently stirring whirl dabbed with Debbie's Lan's hauntingly etched shadow vocal.

Artie Traum, of course, has in the past turned out some classic folk tracks with brother Happy and continues to work in folky directions. It's a slight surprise that among all of the guest vocalists, Artie provides none of his own but his reasoning rests on the nature of the material. The vocal styles are appropriate to the songs and while Traum feels he can "get away with" Bob Dylan-type numbers, he hesitates to dare the formline of this kind of material. He favors being an instrumentalist and compos ing the sophisticated chord changes and exploring figures in the genre for improvisation over singing any day, he says.

The View From Here was delayed by a squabble of the remixing of one of its tunes but follows Letters From Joubee on the same Shanachie label, which topped the Adult Alternative charts in 1994. Despite that success, touring remains easier in Europe for all but the most famous names here and offers a more attentive audience. Whether or not that fact is central to the European tone of this album, Traum has been to Italy three times already this year and it's a safe bet they're waiting with open arms for this release.

Those who program our tastes for what's going to be big, big, big, have developed some side doors and the notion that efforts such as this may enter mainstream sensibilities through the movies is not unthinkable. There's a cinematic quality to much of View From Here as it walks a delicate wire of entertaining likability without engaging full-lobe attention while still delivering the goods on focus. Traum's ear for vagaries of mood is exquisite, and if you're not already in love with this masterful pr ogression by the fourth song in, then you're coping in another zone entirely. A gorgeous, light and almost flawless exposition of contemporary jazz.

-Gary Alexander

NOTE: The STEINAR ALBRIGTSEN reference might be crosslinked to the piece on him? [Gary, the preceeding note was yours]