Neslort is, of course, Trolsen backwards, and the return of this odd 1990s project led by the eccentric New Orleans trombonist Rick Trolsen is the latest gift from the ever-generous Threadhead social network, and something of a triumph for Jeff Albert’s Open Ears Series, which has featured the band.
The music—and concept—is so reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s droll virtuosity that the first phrase that comes to mind in describing the album is that it has no commercial potential (in the best possible interpretation of said phrase). The album title itself recalls Zappa’s gleeful defenestration of mystics and gurus from Apostrophe, “Cosmik Debris,” just as song titles “Bedwetting for Example” and “The Yoga Rope Rag” suggest further arpeggiated snickers and snorks. But Trolsen’s humor is a mask that only barely conceals his earnest, humanistic side. Irony is replaced by sheer dread in “Blues for Man’s Extinction,” an all-too-realistic song about recent events (“Oil in the Gulf, Wetlands are sinking / Beaches are covered with tar”) and “Picture” is a utopian vision of a possible future.
Neslort’s music is strikingly beautiful and well-played, shaped by Trolsen’s angular, chromatically dense arrangements and a level of performance from the band members that takes everything to another level. The rhythm section of Matt Perrine on electric bass, Larry Sieberth on keys and Boyanna Trayanova on drums is supple and precise as it drives the unorthodox time signatures and layered pulses that place Trolsen, saxophonist Kyle Cripps and guitarist Tim Robertson in such esoteric contexts. Trolsen’s soloing in the midst of these gems of creative whimsy recalls Zappa stalwart Bruce Fowler’s jaunty fights of fancy. His singing is also surprisingly good in a Greg Lake/Jack Bruce kind of way.
Most of all, Neslort is an indication of the breadth and creativity of New Orleans musicians. Anywhere else in the world, a band that has to do the kind of heavy lifting required to play arrangements as complex as these would be anything but a side project.