“Sometimes it’s dumb fun to think up impossible supergroups. Maybe they help you imagine a sound you’ve never considered, a combination of histories and vectors that contradicts those that might be steered by normal forces, such as geography or genre or circle of colleagues. A parlor game designed to transcend time and place.
Here’s one: John Carter, Bernard Parmegiani, Mike Ratledge and Tony Williams. Think of the possibilities, Ratledge offers fudgy bass keyboards, circa 1970, Soft Machine’s Third, while Williams alternately takes to the breeze with a swift swinging ride or breaks things up restructurally, a wooden metronome or one-man marching band. On clarinet, Carter gulps and whorls his way into an appealing alternate temporal-spatial framework, the one occupied and charted by Parmegiani, who, from the INA-GRM soundboard dubs the proceedings into electroacoustic ladyland. I’d love to hear it: free-prog-jazz-concrete.
In this case, the dream group’s inspiration came the other direction, rather than imagining something fictional, from listening to Hearts and Minds. Not to suggest that they sound like an additive experiment in mix-and-matchery, quite the contrary, they’re a singularly original unit. But unusual forces are at play, unique combinatorics, suggesting a confluence of ideas, newly directed teleologies, a turbulent eddy in the natural flow of creative music’s waterway.
The collective’s eponymous debut emanates from an eight year incubation, sporadic and occasionally intensive gigging resulting in the accretion of a songbook, featuring tunes and structures divided about equally between the bass-clarinetist Jason Stein and keyboardist and synthesizer player Paul Giallorenzo. Stein and Giallorenzo have known each other since they were tweens on Long Island; both based in Chicago, they’re long established members of the creative music community, key figures in the wave of players attracted to the city in the early aughts. From the drum-kit, also handling electronics, another stalwart Chicagoan, the indominable Frank Rosaly (originally from Phoenix, Arizona, for listeners with a scorecard) plots and plies, sculpting definite shape out of biomorphisms.
What conjures the strange amalgam of superheroes is Hearts and Minds’ gleeful trapezing between sound and swing. It feels classically Chicagoan in a couple of senses. First, there are the compositions, which have a tough and playful attitude that I associate with other great working groups of the millieu. Take the cued interjections against synth solo on An Unfortunate Lack of Role Models. And the notion that an erstwhile instrumentalist can also deal with electronics – analog or digital, synthesized or lap-topped, either way – is a natural thought in the Windy City, from the Chicago Underground Duo to Tortoise to Sam Prekop.
Rosaly can color things acoustically and electronically with equal aplomb; in his hands, pots and pans can mean kitchen sink percussion or potting and panning a mixing board. Giallorenzo may call to mind Sun Ra’s home recordings on Wurlitzer electric piano, a humble sonority, simple and unadorned, almost chime-like, but just as well he can put pedal to metal and kick the vehicle into overdrive. As the lone un-electrified member of the threesome, Stein calls on his thorough understanding of the longhorn’s overtones, as well as a post-bop melodicism that can hit the nursery (Three for One), the laboratory (Old Balance), the library (Streaming), and the barnyard (Stocky). If my free-music fantasy football team had four members, perhaps that’s because Hearts and Minds seems to have an extra contributor, an x-factor, the invisible participant who throws something unexpected into the salad. I have no idea who introduces the played-backwards sounds in “Irresolute,” but I love the way they complicate Rosaly’s brushwork, which can have a reverse-tracked quality of its own. Soul and rock elements are not quotational, more chromosomal – a mean synth tone, the Zigaboo Modaliste hits and Rocket Number Nine quirk of Rocked and Eroded, or even just the title Nick Masonry. Oblique prog, my kinda pop.
Best outcome in a game like ours, daydreaming about a theoretical ensemble: one already exists that exceeds these fantasies. A band that overtakes any presumptions, shaking them up, not playing by the book, appealing to the intellect and getting us in the gut. Winning hearts and minds.” - John Corbett