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The Picture Show – The Treehouse Project

482 Music 1008

Instrumental music, despite idiom restrictions, has the potential for
conveying a visual message. A recent example, Charlie Haden and Pat
Metheney's Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories), painted austere
pictures of the midwest. At times, the chamber orchestrations within the
minimalist, plaintive compositions referenced the picture on the albums
cover of an open sanctuary, where infinity has a palpable medium for mental
approximation: the desolation maximized by a slight abeyance created by a
windmill and barn on the dustbowl ley.

Maybe jazz, as diffuse as the term has become, always works towards a
synesthesia where the auditory instigates a subjective visual. Most artists
have historically employed their cover artwork to try to eliminate the
ambiguity for the listener further regarding the music's expressive
purposes: Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land featured Morgan with a
pensive expression, almost a burlesque of Rodan's "The Thinker," a
portentous image for the albums musical content. Another well documented
example, Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, resulted in lengthy discourses
attempting to describe the stunning approximation of the artwork to the
musical constructs. Quincy Troupe, California's poet laureate, upon
reminiscing apropos Bitches Brew, scribed, "The first thing I
remember, and still remember, concerns the artwork. First, the cover looked
like a rock album, not a jazz album. But, later I realized how perfect the
couple standing there on the beach staring towards America fit the music's
past allegiances and unpredictable future. The artwork melded with the

The Treehouse Project, cognizant of the impact such moments have,
ambitiously tackles the sonic/visual connection with the three CD set The
Picture Show. By orchestrating simple themes, and assembling a
collection of diverse instrumentation, the set moves from Bill Frisell
inspired pieces to straight jazz shuffles ala Charlie Parker and Dizzy
Gillespie. Each track corresponds with an old photograph the band members
found, which have been reproduced with each CD so the listener can decide
the success or failure of each composition. To call The Picture Show
an overwhelming success, however, might detract from the subtlety of the
artwork, both pictorially and melodically.

The project's relevant depth did not occur, for me, until the second disc
and a track titled "Corsages." Featuring Ken Champion's pedal steel, the
piece sounds like a jazz version of a Buddy Holly tune, flowing and moving
with a joyous folk/country sentiment. Upon examining the photo, likely from
the 1950s, of two well-clad gentlemen placing their prom dates in the back
seat with both corsages quite conspicuous, the music melds perfectly with
the song's epoch and scene. Later on the album, "Graduation Day," has a
melodic sorrow, countered by succinct horn fills which attempt to reflect
moments of joy. The photo, matches the strange time changes in the music, as
it features a young lady somewhat depressed, and a sibling holding her
graduating gown: a depressing underscore for a quintessentially perfect day.

I think of the graduating student who crashes her car on the way to
graduation, or the student about to graduate only to go home to parents
furious about her chosen college. Conveying the pressures surrounding the
girl in the photo exemplifies the Treehouse Project's ability to recognize
the emotions, empathize and create music embodying the sentiment; all
without words.

Other images, of drinking pilots, children playing, of love lost and love
found are startling in their own right. Most of the chosen photos have a
peculiar dualism, of being both joyous and depressing, of embarrassing and
influential. The contrasts, much like the greatest art, allow the musicians
the lissome ability for the musical compositions. When inverting the
approach, of performing songs without the lyrics, and with no image, the
band exposes what the project taught: how melody when perfectly created
mimics life's images. The point driven home with Graham Nash's "A Song Before
I Go," which says everything in a three minute exposition.

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