Studio Dan

A Pack of Mad Dogs


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ulrich Olshausen, 2010-06-02

Vienna Art Orchestra, Nouvelle Cuisine, Jazz Bigband Graz and now this: a group with the unspectacular name of Studio Dan (a takeoff of Frank Zappa's 1979 album "Studio Tan"). With this band, Austria may now take its place among the world's leading big band countries - a position not determined by numbers alone but through incisive individual profiles and an overflowing, vital virtuosity throughout. This 18-piece collective (one-third women) invokes in particular the connections between Jazz and New Music, naming among its influences Thelonious Monk, John Cage and Iannis Xenakis. Though he's not mentioned by name, a six-seconds citation from "The Rite of Spring" - among other things - also pays homage to Igor Stravinsky.

The musicians' biographies read like a compendium of musical curiosity and stylistic giftedness, stretching from recorder lessons to the Vienna Philharmonic, from the baroque violin to hip-hop, from the Volksoper to electronica, from studies in America to a dissertation over aleatory music. A list of the prominent teachers, honors and prizes would fill pages. The entire Austrian experimental music scene shows up in the wildly diverse side projects of the individual band members. The band itself, which has a long-term rehearsal home in the Viennese jazz club Porgy & Bess, is five years old and now - after a preview single - enters the wide world with its real debut, the brilliant double album "Creatures & Other Stuff" (JazzWerkstatt Records/ The program, half composed by leader and trombonist Daniel Riegler, the other half mostly by other band members, is pleasantly rounded; taken one by one, though, the single pieces are characterized by an almost jagged diversity. Howling turbulences, twelve-tone ballads, drilling repetitions, brutal clusters, twilit atmospheres, soloistic flights over ragged rock rhythms - or normal swing - a trilling, frayed walz, a dragging piece in which the tones "get lost", a charming contrapuntal miniature . . . all this havoc is wreaked, with fine plays of color from violin, viola, cello, bassoon, electronics, marimba and the instruments more customary to jazz.

The work is dedicated to David Foster Wallace, whose book Infinite Jest (after three years of translation work now also available in German) has already stimulated many a newspaper supplement. And the dedication is apt: at the very least, the two works of art are united by shrill humor and bizarre border crossings in their respective languages, including a little Dada and Gaga. The writer of the liner notes cuts nicely to the chase: "Why choose simple when you can do it complicated? Complicated is sometimes a lot more interesting than simple."