The British Trust For Ornithology helpfully explains that the Rallidae is a family of birds that includes such less-than-romantic species as the moorhen and the coot. Paper Birds is the debut release from a somewhat different Rallidae—a Brooklyn-based trio that combines improvisation with strong melodies and narratives.
The Brooklyn Rallidae is led by Canadian tenor saxophonist, vocalist and composer Angela Morris: vocalist Alex Samaras and bassist/vocalist Scott Colberg complete the rather unusual trio lineup. Paper Birds is a genuinely distinctive, and entertaining, combination of sounds and words.
“I Had Imagined Them, Unthinkingly” is Morris’ setting of a poem by Johanna Skibsrud. Morris, Colberg and Samaras share vocal duties but it’s Samaras who takes center-stage. His deeply resonant voice delivers Skibsrud’s words with a powerful emotional intensity. Saxophone and bass weave in and out of the vocal line quite beautifully—at times the tenor sounds almost human, while Samaras’ voice takes on an instrumental quality, a role switch that creates some fascinating harmonies.
The rest of the songs feature Morris’ lyrics alongside her music. “Prettier” is a straightforward love song—at least, on the surface. “Every hair on your head is prettier than you know,” sings Samaras, but his edgy, forceful, delivery and anguished extemporisation suggest something more complex—Colberg’s understated bass playing is particularly fine on this song. “Smells Like Paint” opens with the excellent “Excuse me girl, I couldn’t help but notice you make it hard to focus on drinking my ninth beer.” Samaras soon morphs from the guy with the pickup line to the girl he’s trying to impress before he and Morris break into an improvised voice/sax interaction that suggests the guy is unlikely to get anywhere.
“Long Time” is a duet between Morris’ voice and Colberg’s bass. Pure, simple, lyrical—an achingly gorgeous torch song. Morris has a fragile vocal beauty, reminiscent of singer and trumpeter Sarah Wilson’s: Colberg displays an acute ability to play rhythmically while also reflecting the singer’s melodic phrasing.
Put aside all talk of coots, this all-too-brief four song EP announces the arrival of a far more romantic Rallidae. Paper Birds is an exceptional debut from an exciting and innovative new band.Bruce Lindsay – All About Jazz 6/29/2014
Call it what you will, Rallidae may well be one of the most exciting vocal ensembles to come along in years. Mad potential and a sound uniquely their own should have improvisational vocal enthusiasts drawn to this group in short order. Paper Birds is a intelligent if not short introduction to a sound and style that is not exactly new, but it is rarely performed at this level straight out of the box. The improvisational vocal community has now been put on notice as the bar has just been raised.
Tone, texture and a deceptively nuanced free form approach adds a vocal depth rare for most trios. Angela Morris has a pristine voice and a command of the tenor saxophone that is most impressive by any critical standards. Vocalist Alex Samaras provides a whimsical counterpoint while vocalist and acoustic bassist Scott Colberg provides the final thread of this most unusual of vocal mosaics.
This is an ensemble that defies genre as they chart their own harmonic course down the lyrical road less traveled. Accessible yet far reaching with a free form interpretation that has the ability to transfix the listener. A brilliant introduction to some rising stars!Brent Black – criticaljazz.com 6/15/2014
How best to describe the music of the trio known as Rallidae? First, know that the ensemble includes Angela Morris (tenor saxophone, voice), Scott Colberg (acoustic bass, voice) and Alex Samaras (voice). Understand that Ms. Morris has studied with Darcy James Argue and is currently a member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop under the tutelage of Jim McNeely and Mike Holober. Fellow Canadian Samaras has worked with Meredith Monk and leads the 8-voice GREX ensemble. Bassist Colberg is extremely busy as both a band member of numerous ensembles and as a sideman. None of that will really prepare one for this adventurous project.
The trio’s debut, “Paper Birds” (self-released by Ms. Morris) hews closer to the music of Theo Bleckmann (especially in Mr. Samaras’s wide ranging vocals) and Sam Sadigursky (setting poetry to music). This is a 4-song EP, clocking in at just under 24 minutes. Ms. Morris wrote the music and lyrics save for the Johanna Skibsrud poem on the opening track, “I Had Imagined Them, Unthinkingly”, also the only track with 3-part vocal harmony. I like the blend of the clean lines of the female voice with the more pliable voice of Mr. Samaras. The final track, “Long Time”, is just voice with Ms. Colberg’s expressive bass; it has the feel of an Appalachian ballad, a handsome melody with a plaintive vocal. The longest cut, “Prettier” (9:03), moves away from simple opening (voice, sax and shivering bowed bass) to a more “conventional” ballad and then out from that into “freer” territory. “Smells Like Paint” tells a more humorous approach to a “pickup” situation where the narrator has already drunk 9 beers. The saxophonist and Mr. Samaras get a bit agitated in the middle of the song and end the song on a frantic “blowing in the ear.”
“Paper Birds” make take a few intense listens to understand the trio’s intent but it’s worth the effort. The 4-song program is a smart calling card for Rallidae as it makes one want more and keeps you guessing as to where the music can go. For more information, go to angelamorris.wordpress.com.Richard B. Kamins – Step Tempest 6/24/2014
A 4-track debut EP by Brooklyn-based jazz trio Paper Birds. Music and words are by Ms Morris apart from the lyric on track one (by poet Johanna Skibsrud). Lovers of free jazz may well enjoy this, as may do adventurous jazz fans who like strong effective lyrics. It’s good to hear free jazz with words. Track one reminded me of performances by The Incredible String Band, cult folk band of the 1960’s, and track three had shades of West Side Story. But really this sort of music has to be heard to be appreciated properly.
The singers perform in high light voices to portray the paper birds of track 1, to effective sax and bass interventions. The tracks pass seamlessly one to another, and track 2 opens with a shimmering sax of many tones, then scales, and the lyric of a love song, ‘every hair on your head is prettier than you know’, followed by a jazz scat male voice in a sort of question and answer with the sax. Tracks 3 and 4 ‘smells like paint’ and ‘long time’ sound a bit more like structured songs. Track 3 is about a man drunk in a bar, with amusing fast sax between the ‘verses’; track 4 is a meaningful song about things that happen slowly, such as a ‘heart that takes a long time to love’, with music from the bass. But the instrumentation is far more interesting than I’ve made it sound. As described on the information sheet ‘in contrast to a solo-centric jazz aesthetic, are largely ensemble constructions whose individual facets emerge into focus amid the shimmering group textures.
GigSpace (953 Gladstone Ave.) continues to attract young, adventurous DIY musicians from out of town wanting to stage concerts in its intimate room. The latest: Toronto saxophonist/vocalist Angela Morris brings her quintet in Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. show that will “expose the connective tissue between songwriting and improvisation,” she says. Definitely worth hearing is the arresting vocalist Alex Samaras, who joins Morris and her Brooklyn-based rhythm section. Tickets: $20.Peter Hum – Ottawa Citizen “Best Bet” 4/9/2014