LULU’S ASCENT -
Lulu’s Ascent 001 Records
review | by Ross Rice
Lulu’s Ascent presents something of a paradox with their eponymous debut. A self-described “jazz-flavored jam” band, one would expect the notes-per-minute to be on the high side, with the songs taking a backseat to long improvisations - Bitches Brew meets Phish. So what’s with all this—space? Apparently, “space” is the fourth member of Lulu’s Ascent, a Woodstock/Kingston based trio featuring LuAnn Arena (bass, vocals, songs), Tom Desisto (guitar, keys, producer), and Steve Olenski (drums, percussion). On this CD, the band opts for a spare, economic sound with minimal overdubs, highlighting the vocals and songwriting over the instrumental. The result: a solid, if slightly uneven debut.
The opening tracks “Closer” and “Day 19” set the tone: tight interplay between the bass and drums, while Desisto plays almost Jim Hall-type wide chords with internal counterpoint. Arena’s warm and fluid vocal gets a full showcase and maximum reverb. Things start getting interesting on “Hear Me,” with Hendrix-like chords and Mellotron strings. “Land of Make Believe” starts suddenly with a synthesizer and a ....taxi? A deeply jazz-twisted version of the Police “Walking On The Moon” alternately amazes and confounds; the chordal density almost overwhelms the material. Still, Desisto’s inventive guitar work keeps things interesting through to “Got My Attention,” with its hooky chorus (nice to hear the background vocal) and the finale “Mantra,” where the band finally stretches out, complete with electric sitars, turntable squiggles, and chants. Sounds like fun.
Let’s hope Lulu’s Ascent represents a welcome trend in jam bands towards attention to songs and use of space. Still, the band could use some tougher sounding production, more melody, and less reverb. Sometimes that space gets a little loud.