In its early days, D.C. hard-core punk was primarily a vehicle for youthful vocalists to express their frustrations, but the style has taken many unexpected turns as musicians' ideas and skills have grown. Today, there are even a number of hard-core-rooted Washington bands that at times forgo lyrics altogether.
In outline, Telegraph Melts' premise seems schematic: Amy Domingues plays polished classical cello while Bob Massey plays raw rock guitar. But the duo's CD "Ilium" (Absolutely Kosher) demonstrates that there's space for a great deal of variety within that formula. While the guitar is more versatile than the cello, both can go in unexpected directions, from the Link Wray-like power-twang of "Septembrist" to the lyricism of Benjamin Britten's "Canto Primo."
The group, which performs Nov. 23 at the Black Cat, favors dramatic juxtapositions and sudden shifts of tempo and timbre, yet its music never sounds scattered in the manner of much unlistenable 20th-century art music. In that sense, Telegraph Melts' sensibility is classical--even when Massey's brawling guitar is in the foreground.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8175.)
Telegraph Melts aside, most punk-bred musicians in search of new musical realms discover funk and jazz. As if to prove that, the Sorts include versions of Ornette Coleman's "Una Muy Bonita" and Kool & the Gang's "Let the Music Take Your Mind" on their new "Contemporary Music" (Slowdime), an album of seven instrumentals. Although the D.C. band is basically a guitar-bass-drums trio, three additional players are credited on this album, and the sound is often dominated by the saxophone of semi-Sort Carlo Cennamo. The sax's principal rival is Stuart Fletcher's bass, which is both a lead instrument and the engine of the album's funkier tracks. The occasional synth squawk of such tracks as "Ninth Wonder" distinguishes "Contemporary Music" from traditional jazz, but the album is not especially punky. Even on the composition by noted noisemaker Coleman, the Sorts emphasize fluid ensemble work over combative sonic assaults.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8176.)
Perhaps that's because the Sorts are leaving the noise to All Scars, another Washington trio with hard-core roots. The 13 untitled tracks on this band's "Introduction to Humanity" (Slowdime) find the link between punk and free jazz in both musics' explosiveness. "Get used to the temporary. Things are not meant to last," counsel the liner notes, and there's certainly little solid ground between these howls and blasts. A few of the selections have words, which are sung and shouted by keyboardist-trumpeter Chuck Bettis and (sometimes) guest musician Amy Farina. But the majority restrict vocals to just another insistent sound, dueling with trumpet, guitar, keyboards and the rhythm section of bassist Dug Birdzell (who played with Sorts guitarist Joshua LaRue in the band Rain Like the Sound of Trains) and drummer Jerry Busher. The chaos rarely coalesces, but then unity is not All Scars' goal.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8177.)
CAPTION: Telegraph Melts: Bob Massey on rock guitar and Amy Domingues on cello.