Though All The Fates

by David Karsten Daniels & Fight The Big Bull on FatCat Records

The first single to be taken from the glorious ‘I Mean To Live Here Still’ album, ‘Though All The Fates’ serves as a neat introduction to the collaborative work of David Karsten Daniels and Fight the Big Bull. Though ‘I Mean To Live Here Still’ is the third FatCat album to bear the name of the former, San Francisco-based artist David Karsten Daniels, it is his first in partnership with Richmond, Virginia-based 9-piece avant-jazz collective Fight the Big Bull.

With a record that occupies that rarely-encountered middle ground between earnestly-delivered, emotionally-affecting folk and raucous psych-jazz, the composition involved is the work of two well-versed, but entirely honest and unpretentious songwriting minds. Academic but not aloof; energetic, but not disordered, Daniels’ work with Fight the Big Bull’s composer/arranger Matthew White on this track is perhaps the closest to traditional big band arrangements found on 'I Mean To Live Here Still'. ‘Though All The Fates’ is a joyous prohibition-party, full of boistrous brass and woodwind that ends up marching through the night like a New Orleans procession.

‘Though All The Fates’ is backed with non-album track, ‘The Poet’s Delay’. Ostensibly a more stripped-down affair than the A-side, it is David Karsten Daniels’ extraordinary musicianship exemplified here: even without the grand-scale orchestration that characterises much of ‘I Mean To Live Here Still’, a certain, inimitiable “breadth” is palpable.

Daniels - an immensely talented, formally-trained composer/musician with a background in hymn singing and four-track experimentation, and a release history of gentle, acoustic, plaintive folk music embellished with touches of orchestration and jazz – made a tentative connection with Fight the Big Bull in 2008. The latter, led by White, exist loosely in the Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Ornette Coleman plane of jazz, yet are fiercely, often unpredictably, unique. The band’s head-spinning spirals of instrumentation and experimentation, a modern counterpart to fundamental traditions of experimental jazz, to Ascension and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, are described, aptly, as “messy, glorious, big-hearted.” Comprising trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, trombones, upright bass, electric guitar, percussion and drums, their instrumental pallette is truly broad in its scope despite its markedly traditional makeup.

Significantly, both artists’ musical heritages are firmly rooted in North American traditions. Both simultaneously exemplify and transcend their foundations, bringing together a sound that that implies both, but is galvanised and transformed into a record that sounds like neither.

The collaboration took flight over 2009, as Daniels worked on a new set of music (a follow up to 2008’s gorgeous ‘Fear of Flying’ album), taking lyrics from the poems of 19th Century American author-poet Henry David Thoreau. Daniels began sending sketches of songs to White in September 2009. White scored arrangements – meticulously, masterfully put together – that flutter, trill, groove and crash, bracing and swelling around Daniels’ honeyed voice, dodging harmonies unexpectedly in places and densely weaving a vast, jubilant collage of sound in others. Contributing as much reserved, considered ensemble playing as free-jazz vibrancy, Fight the Big Bull’s attention to detail and subtlety in their performance also yields a result comparable in places to the West Coast minimalists - Terry Riley/Pauline Oliveros/La Monte Young etc. – whilst noticeably referring to various strains of trad. jazz in others. A departure of sorts for the band, but one that beautifully interacts with Daniels’ songwriting.

Daniels flew out to Virginia in January 2010, joining the the band to play through these songs in White’s converted attic space at night, before a three-day, self-produced session at Lance Koehler’s Minimum Wage studios in Richmond, playing the tracks live, all together in one space. Daniels began an exhaustive mixing process after taking these recordings back to the West Coast, exchanging detailed notes online with White, this dialogue being of similarly collaborative weight as the earlier composition methods.

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