VaVatican Press

Tiny Mix Tapes Review: I Love You (dora lee) (1/9/15)

What happens when you get “too good” at your instrument? Some go straight for free-jazz, jumping into a solo career to create a “big name” that will eventually collaborate with other “big names” in the improvisation world. Free experimentation with other skilled musicians becomes procedural — the task being to converse virtuosically with your instrument in a variety of different formats, honing in on loose concepts or musical goals. Another option might be to eventually attempt a reconciliation of instrumental skill with the greater pantheon of art history, a history that may or may not involve jazz. In this case, the talented player embarks to apply their instrument to other mediums, to create works that abandon the moniker of the virtuoso. Perhaps I’m making a conjecture, but VaVatican’s particular brand of NYC post-instrumentalism demonstrates a group of players who are so damn good at playing their instruments, they’re nearly bored with standard improvisational flaunt. Instead, they’ve more in common with staged performance, with theater, with constructing fragmented anti-narratives through their instruments. They may align more with Beckett than Coltrane.

I had the pleasure of seeing VaVatican perform about two years ago and was blown away by the technicality of each musician. The saxophonist’s squall was informed by various preparation techniques, using scotch tape to create multi-phonics. The drummer was restrained and textural, occasionally erupting into sharp blast beats. The whole thing was wrapped in the shimmering high-end of cerebral synth playing. Yet, most impressive was the odd “mariner’s tale” that was unfolding throughout; the performance eventually ended with a grunt-laden standoff between the guitarist and saxophonist. Eye contact. Anger. Unbelievable drama.

It’s that spirit that carries over to I Love You (Dora Lee), a statement that’s easily one of the most serious proclamations of love I’ve recently heard. Side one begins with a large oceanic swell that forthrightly speaks to their musical intention; the largeness of the cassette’s opening suggests their declarative project, something about absurd utterance. While these moments of bombast are interwoven with sections of extended saxophone technique or electro-acoustic contact mic gibberish (farting), the “big hit” moments include a passage of back-and-forth “tree-naming” and their cataclysmic finale of an Elvis Presley cover. Despite the playfulness throughout, the seriousness of their micro-drama isn’t lost. The triteness of “Love” (of Elvis) is rendered beautiful, the meaning restored.

[full review here]

Boston Hassle Review: I Love You (dora lee) (1/25/15)

I Love You (Dora Lee) is the new 38-minute opus from NYC’s VaVatican, out now on NNA Tapes. The four-piece, featuring members of Cloud Becomes Your Hand, play a blend of melted jazz, spacey electronic tweaking, and general experimentation all combined into an improvised post-something-or-other (post-jazz?). The album’s absurdist art-rock progresses through noise, ambient, electroacoustic, post-rock, and jazz passages but centers on a seemingly free-association spoken-word piece around the 13½-minute mark. This section highlights the album’s Burroughs-like cut-up approach while making the Theater of the Absurd aesthetic its most apparent quality—all that’s missing is for one of the band members to turn into a rhinoceros onstage during live performances. While tonally and thematically this forms the climax of the album, I Love You (Dora Lee) continues to build until it culminates in the final absurdity, a cover of Elvis’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You. If free jazz has gotten too tame for your liking, VaVatican might just be up your alley.

[full review here]

Jacob Wick live performance review

...they started playing and it was great... i think here is where i’ve run into problems attempting to write a review of VaVatican: SoSoviet (I loved you and you broke my heart). for i think here is where i would start describing the particular songs that they played and what they sounded like. the problem of course is that i don’t remember what songs they played - except for one, vaguely, which i might describe later - and i have no idea what it sounded like. i have no similes to describe it and i have no interest in finding them. describing music in terms of similes is outmoded and idiotic. we have known for a long time that all music is sound, and we have known since john cage that all sound is music, so how can we talk about what music sounds like? music sounds like sound. sound sounds like music. does a lawnmower sound like beethoven? it might. why not?

music might sound like organized sound. this can be a private experience (you can ride the bus and hear it as a symphony) or a public one (you can write a symphony). this has a lot to do with intention. in fact i would imagine that if we read some john dewey we could read something about a pragmatic approach to art and perhaps we would read - i have only heard this, i have unfortunately never actually read john dewey, although i have been asked to - that an experience of art has primarily to do with having an art experience and not really with anything else. you can have an art experience with a brick or with van gogh. you can have an art experience, as i’ve had, looking at a van gogh and hearing someone behind you say “you know, i just don’t like blue."

at some point during the VaVatican set, i had to pee. i got up, because when i have to pee i lose the ability to pay attention to anything else and have a terrible time. so i went up to the bathroom, relieved myself, walked to the dirty kitchen where a bunch of people i didn’t want to talk to were talking to each other, got another beer - a high life, probably - and walked back toward the basement. as i was walking, i noticed that many more people than had previously been there had gathered on the steps and on the banister and they were looking at each other incredulously, like something was happening that they knew should be happening but that they couldn’t understand was happening. something was happening that was outrageous and it was the thing that should have been happening, and the thing about living in new york or in the world is that often the thing that should be happening is not happening and you are entirely convinced that what is happening should be happening and it is a wonderful and beautiful and cleansing experience to realize the extent to which you are wrong. that is why VaVatican is the greatest band in america and that is why you should listen to this album and that is why you should buy it.