This album is akin to an arduous climb up a steep mountain in order to see glimpses of unique scenery. It’s a slog to be sure, but one that offers musical rewards. It is in places harsh but also intimate and engrossing. Bear Proof is a purely instrumental album that in places appears to discourage all but the most intrepid of listener. The words alternative and experimental are writ large in bold letters on every single note of the album. Yet, for those who persist in a very counter intuitive fashion and do not reach for the stop button, there await interesting and in places, unexpectedly large and beautiful musical vistas.
Bear Proof purports to be bass player Todd Sickafoose’s first album in 15 years, a period filled with production work on albums for others and various musical escapades including a film soundtrack around the Bay Area in San Francisco. He was a student of the very eminent Charlie Haden (1937-2014) and is joined on Bear Proof by a merry crew that includes: Jenny Scheinman – violin, Adam Levy – guitar, Erik Deutsch – piano, Ben Goldberg – clarinet, Kirk Knuffke – cornet, Rob Reich – accordion and Allison Miller – drums.
The nine tracks were recorded live in a single take at Fantasy Studios in Berkely with the bare minimum of post production fixes. The music ebbs and flows from country western themes to Klezmer tunes, from jazzy accordion to full flow horn on big orchestra like tunes. It offers a wee bit of traditional Irish melody as well as blues, there is even rock (and a smidgen of roll) in the many layers of its sound. The album is Sickafoose’s unique vision of whatever the Americana music de jour is, and he has a masterful touch. Much like all avant and semi-avant guard performance it will require persistence and patience, those who take the time to sit through the album will be all the richer culturally and musically from the experience. Sometimes the proverbial hard climb has rich rewards, this is certainly one of those instances.
Recommended track: Turns Luck