Discography of River Cow Orchestra…..
"The Tyranny and Grace of Good Socks" 2009
"Secret Sickness" 2009
"Live at the Farris" 2010
"Mother Tongue" 2011
"Go Wake the Rooster" 2011
"This is Not a Bill" 2012
"Going Softly into The Good Night" 2013
"Finding Water" 2014
Some Sample Reviews………………
"…They create very open and wide structures and take time to develop things. Their improvisations originate on stage or in studio without much pretension. This results in very captivating music that is never in a hurry and working very consequent to its goal…It's just there."
Dolf Mulder, Vital Weekly, Netherlands
River Cow Orchestra
Go Wake the Rooster
Tracks: Clap Your Hand, Broadway Haiku, Bear Head Baby (for Sarah Palin), Sunrise Over Topanga, No More Shit Tonight, Quit Everything, Yes, Don’t Just Stand There, And That’s Not All, Horse Head Soup, Don’t Jerk Me Around
Recorded at LA Audio, Lenexa, Kansas.
The note from River Cow
Orchestra saxophonist and key-
boardist Brent Bowman that ac-
companied this release said that
this was “Zen Jazz”, collective
spontaneous free improvisation.
The focus on “collective” may
explain why the CD material lists
none of the musicians; the individual is less important than the whole. (That being said, some work on the Web came up with trumpeter E.E. Pointer, bassist Allen McGinty, violinist/percussionist/keyboard and theremin player Michael LeGrega, guitarist Don McCarter, and percussionist Greg Field as being in RCO, and I assume they are on this recording). This is the fifth recording from the band, and the first I have heard.
Some free improv can get can get too “noisy” for many, seeming intent to take musical instruments to make something not always musically pleasurable. RCO’s work can get dense, but usually uses some simple forms to build music that a broader jazz audience can enjoy. There are no screeching tenors here. The key voice is that of trumpeter Pointer horn. But, at the end of the day, it was all just plain fun, holding my interest for several listens through the program.
Pointer, who is quite the melodic player, playing muted and open horn riffs in a fashion that Miles may have done over the riffs in his later bands (not that this sounds anything like Tutu et al): playing off the groove that has been established. This is how “Clap Your Hand” is built, with a simple rhythm picked up by the guitar and then the trumpet and bass, with some keyboard “horn riffs” added as well. It winds up setting an easy groove for guitar and trumpet solos. This is a great piece of spontaneous composition for those who may be wary, a trust-builder, if you will.
Simple repeated themes are a key tool for RCO (and I wonder how it could be otherwise). But there are indeed “hooks” here to give you a toehold. “Broadway Haiku” has another from the trumpet, and guitar and violin com- mentary enters to add to the interest. Or, they can start with a longer but still simple melody, like “Sunrise Over Topanga”. The melody is “You Are My Sunshine” simple, but what RCO does with it keeps my interest as in builds some intensity. Or, the funky “No More Shit Tonight” with a great groove, rhythm guitar and backbeat, almost RCO Meets James Brown, all with the Pointer horn.
Can it get noisy, though? Sure. “Bear Headed Baby (for Sarah Palin)” sounds like a soundtrack for a bad dream in a movie, with some spoken parts over rock rhythm and chunky guitar. This gets very dense before the dream ends. There is some spoken voice in an echo box on “Quit Everything”, which is hilarious. “And That’s Not All” has the same voice, but the riffs build and layer nicely and dominate the piece.
Still, while the non-vocal pieces work best for me, even these vocal things were fine, but I wouldn’t want an entire set of it. Overall, I found the music genuinely fresh and exciting, as this experienced band has presented a varied set with melodic and rhythmic interest, with plenty of interplay and drama. I especially enjoyed the Pointer horn. But, at the end of the day, it was all just plain fun, holding my interest for several listens through the program.
— Roger Atkinson
River Cow Orchestra
This Is Not a Bill
Personnel: Don McCarter, guitar; Brent Bowman, keyboards; E. E. Pointer, trumpet; Allen McGinty, bass; Greg Field, drums
Tracks: Heads Together at Table 3, Baby Tonight— Watch Out for the Receptacle, Alley Dice, Morning Light, Her Hair Across the Pillow, Some Doctor Will See You Now, Money Girl, This Is Not a Bill, Black Heart, Slow Dance on the Edge of Oblivion
This is the second River
Cow Orchestra release that
we have reviewed in recent
issues, following their Go
Wake the Rooster CD that
was reviewed in the October/
November 2011 JAM. That
release featured their spon-
taneous free improvisation
over some simple forms, set up over some great grooves, and the fine soloing of trumpeter E.E. Pointer. That disc was also just a lot of fun to listen to; there were plenty of surprises to keep the ears happy.
This Is Not a Bill seems more composed than the spontaneous Rooster (although there is still plenty of spontaneity and interplay here). The seductive grooves are still there, the solid Pointer trumpet still shines and you might find some of the melodies sticking with you. Almost sounds (dare we say?) accessible.
Actually, it is accessible. Its simplicity is one of the attractions: jazz-rock rhythms (with enough variation to keep you on your toes), repetitive layered riffs from bass, keys, and guitar, and the whole band finding places to make their solo statements.
The opener “Heads Together at Table 3” is a case in point. This features a repeated two-bar riff from bassist Allen McGinty over which Pointer states a shave-and-a- haircut-like melody. Pointer then builds on this phrase. After a short Don McCarter guitar fill, Pointer returns on muted horn. Like much of the RCO work, there’s not much in the way of chord changes; just set the groove and let’s play.
McCarter’s fuzzed-out funk guitar and a matching rhythm makes me think of a Lonnie Liston Smith groove on “Alley Dice”. “Morning Light” is a light rock piece that proves my accessible comment, feel free to sway a little here. “Doctor” brings back the funk and backbeat, with a driving bass line from McGinty, who also solos. Again, no chord changes, no modulation, just that groove. And check out the space-age synth at the close. The title track gets going with a rockish Bowman riff that is picked up by McCarter and Field, and Pointer has one of his more effective solos. The band really cooks here, the comping from guitar and keys adding interest. Somehow the tune keeps adding heat until Pointer slows it down, and then McGinty gets it going again with a solid solo and there is some actual modulation which normally would not sur- prise, but it does here. A wah-wah serves McCarter well to open “Slow Dance”. He keeps it going while Pointer’s trumpet voice enters, before they settle into an easy groove and some dramatic moments.
Like Rooster there are some “vocals” as well, what I think of as poetry to help establish a rhythmic founda- tion for a tune. On “Baby Tonight” McCarter’s guitar plays with the almost spoken vocal, and Pointer’s trumpet repeats and makes us realize that there is a melody after all. All the while, we have a drone from Brent Bowman’s organ. “Money Girl” opens in a free vein under the short vocal, and never really loses it, because Bowman’s comping goes in some different places. “Black Heart” is a zombie- like poem with a drone and Pointer obbligato before some fun guitar and drum work.
How do we sum this up? I still like my word accessible. There’s nothing that one might hear as too noisy or dense, it is melodic, and these guys do have a way with setting a stage for their solo voices. I have yet to hear RCO live, but after Rooster and Bill I’m thinking that the River Cow Orchestra would make for an enjoyable evening, and this will be another fine souvenir until then.
—Roger Atkinson, JAM Magazine
from KCMetropolis, live review of Fringe Festival Performance, July 2011
I was anxious when I read "collective improvisation" as the description for the music of River Cow Orchestra’s Zen Jazz performance. It is a tricky genre as it can easily—and often does—go in the direction of a chaotic expression of indistinguishable melodies, ideas that lose direction, pieces that seem to go forever, in short, a musical experience that leave the listener in a confused state of mind. I couldn't have been more wrong. From the very start my ears were hit by freshness, sincerity, and innovation of sound. It took me only five minutes to feel almost embarrassed for not having heard of this Kansas City gem before.
The event took place at the modest setting of the Kansas City Fringe Festival’s Fringe Central with a scant attendance. As the soft synthesizer pedals and ostinato motives opened the evening, the piercing notes on the trumpet set the tone for the night and put the audience into an immediate trance. The music was accompanied by digital projection on a large screen that provided a backdrop for the ensemble, offering a rare performance of visual and sonic expression outside of a rock concert.
RCO presented eight pieces that were created on the spot without charts or any preconceived idea of structure, which I found hard to believe due to the uncanny level of synergy and communication. So many times the musical transitions were collective, and rhythmic shifts on the drum and bass—the backbone of any jazz ensemble—were synchronized. They must have been channeling each other at some subconscious level.
The pieces, or excursions as the trumpet player E. E. Pointer put it, took the audience through a journey of styles from psychedelic to funk, acid jazz, traditional jazz and contemporary classical music in the likeliness of Eric Dolphy, Charlie Haden, Charles Mingus, even Pink Floyd and Radiohead. Little surprises, like a musical quote from the Wizard of Oz and Middle Eastern melodies, Pointer rang out in one of the "excursions" took me out of my trance.
In addition to musical elements, River Cow Orchestra employed spoken word: both improvised and previously written. "I saw her in the backroom / Her eyes cut my air / Her eyes grabbed me in the throat" is a little quote from percussionist Greg Field I managed to jot down. As several pieces were opened by Field's words, I made a note to myself: “He must be a poet.” I found out after the performance he indeed was, and I found his poetry striking.
The visuals Bowman selected for July 23rd's performance was a seamless composition of time-lapse imagery of natural phenomena. The passing of clouds, blossoming of flowers, emerging of seeds and spread of mushrooms transformed into abstract images of a symbolic language as the music unfolded. The idea served as a perfect metaphor for the philosophy of the ensemble. Just like each seed visually emerged and grew into a full body, the musical ideas grew into full-blown thoughtful compositions. The visual component and the music complemented each other in a way that is rare to come by.
Much to my surprise and enjoyment, the pieces were fashionably short. The musicians played with such awareness of time, sound and aesthetic that as soon as the initial musical idea grew and ripened they concluded with an elegant ending. As a result, the pieces had individuality, thus making them memorable.
River Cow Orchestra's philosophy is to explore the process of artistic improvisation rather than focus on creating a music product for entertainment. "We emphasize musical mood and place an aesthetic premium on the character and personality of each musician rather than the technical skill of each individual." Do not be fooled by the modesty of this statement for each player is high-level musician with the skill of a Zen master.
I was overjoyed and impressed by River Cow Orchestra's performance. It was one of the best spontaneous musical creations I experienced. If you're asking what Zen has anything to do with jazz, you only need to see River Cow Orchestra in action to understand. Go "fringe" this while there is still time.
Nihan Yesil, KCMetropolis
"River Cow Orchestra, Going Softly Into the Good Night: New release from excellent Kansas City based large ensemble. Trumpet that soars atmospherically a la fusion era Miles Davis, melodies that swoon and entrance, dynamic improvisation but cohesive as any soundtrack. Experimental, yet supremely likable and approachable. Their last album was wonderful, too. Find of the Week." - Dave Summer, eMusic.com (Mar 20, 2012)
River Cow Orchestra
"Going Gently Into the Good Night"
Personnel: Brent Bowman, Keyboard; Don McCarter, Guitar; E.E. Pointer, Trumpet; Allan McGinty, Bass; Michael LaGrega, Synths; Greg Field, Drums
Tracks: Inspiration Point; Best Burrito in the World; Flatliners; Grace over Beauty; Allegory of Beast With a Million Eyes; Hey, Brent...; Stole All You Had to Give; There Was a Time; Glen and Glenda (for Edward Wood); Catch as Catch Can; The Good Dreams of a One-Eyed Dog
My first thought when I heard the muted trumpet motif opening “Inspirational Moment,” was of Sanctury from the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew album. Indeed, much of River Cow Orchestra’s album reminded me of In a Silent Way and related meditative fusion of that period.
According to their MySpace page, it’s ‘Zen Jazz.’ It’s as apt a term as any for this mostly contemplative and mellow free jazz effort.
There’s plenty of groove in the mix, though, both from Greg Field’s percussion work and from pulsing bass and guitar riffs that provide texture and a moving background for E.E. Pointer’s explorations. Guitarist Don McCarter interacts a lot with Pointer, particularly on track such as “Grace Over Beauty.” Interplay is what makes free jazz work (and lack of it is what can make it fail), and all the musicians who make up the River Cow Orchestra are ‘big ears’ players who stay attuned to what the other musicians are doing so they can contribute to the overall without getting in each other’s way.
A track that deviates from the overall is “Allegory of the Beast With a Million Eyes” — there’s no vocalist listed, but there’s a rant that comes in over the music about the black and white science fiction movie included in the title. It’s a brief rant, a sort of comic relief (it put me in mind of “Stuart” by the Dead Milkmen—though not nearly as bizarre or intense).
Vocals are used sparingly, such as at the opening of “Hey Brent...” sounds a lot like Roger Allan Wade say- ing, ‘Hey Brent.’ More semi-comedic accents come in a vaguely Celtic sounding vocal bit about Glen getting his gland stepped on in “Glen and Glenda (for Edward Wood).”
As with all experimental music, River Cow Orchestra takes risks and requires a receptive mind set to appreciate. If your attention span is as sporadic as mine, you can listen to it 10 times and notice completely new things each time—I know this because it happened to me. It tends to the ethereal and hypnotic with funk and R&B influences, always interesting, nuanced and musical.
—Rod McBride, JAM Magazine