If it sounds like Daniel Villarreal is rediscovering his drum set in real time in the opening moments of Lados B, that’s because—in a way—he is. He creates a groove one thwack at a time, poking gingerly at his cowbells and woodblocks as if to make sure they still work, building a curtain of percussion for nearly a minute on “Traveling With” before bassist Anna Butterss and guitarist Jeff Parker come in. The sessions of “high-level spontaneous music” documented on Lados B were recorded in October 2020 and represent the first time any of the three participants collaborated with another living musician after the beginning of the COVID pandemic––an arrangement possible thanks to International Anthem founder Scottie McNeice, who allowed the three to record in his backyard in LA. There are no bird chirps or distant lawnmowers to let you know they’re recording outside, but there’s a lot of sunshine on this low-slung funk record—and a bit of bittersweet anti-nostalgia for the generator shows, street-corner open mics, and outdoor jams that defined the first stirrings of live music on the other side of lockdown.
Some of these recordings ended up on Panamá 77, Villarreal’s debut from last year, but Lados B zooms into the raw material recorded during their two-day jaunt in McNeice’s garden. Panamá was fierce and fiery, with Villarreal seemingly hell-bent on meeting the high stakes hanging over any debut album. Lados B is looser, and the tempo rarely exceeds a mid-tempo lope; on “Things Can Be Calm,” he ditches his kit entirely to play kalimba through a ghostly patina of metallic echo. Rather than a clattering virtuoso attacking his drums, it’s easier to imagine Villarreal as a sturdy and sedentary presence—the bole of a mighty tree, with his arms as the branches and the continuous wall of percussion as the rustling of the leaves. Butterss’ basslines are spare and precise, resting atop Villarreal’s beds of percussion. Parker borrows some tricks from his great 2021 album Forfolks, including using a looping pedal to elongate single notes and create lustrous ambient drones that free him from the obligation of playing chords.
The overall vibe is less reminiscent of Panamá ‘77 than Butterss and Parker’s last collaboration: the sumptuous live album Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy, which is a thousand times more fun and front-porch-friendly than an improvised double album named for a David Foster Wallace reference has any right to be. That album folded hip-hop beats and ambient textures into its stately tribute to cool West Coast jazz, and so does Lados B, which has fewer tracks than Panamá but is slightly longer despite advertising itself as an album of B-sides (the literal translation of its title). The band nicknamed the garden in which they recorded “Chicali Outpost,” a reference to its California locale and to Parker and Villarreal’s roots in the fertile Chicago jazz scene International Anthem has been documenting for almost a decade. On top of sounding like the kind of place Hemingway might’ve sipped cool rum cocktails and pecked out a novella, it’s a name true to the record’s spirit: the restlessness and open-mindedness of the Chicago scene, pitched at the woozy tempo of G-funk and Palm Desert stoner rock.
International Anthem likes to follow up its tentpole releases with albums that serve as prequels, hyperlinks, or featurettes. A few months ago, UK saxophonist/poet Alabaster DePlume followed up his spoken-word epic Gold with an album called Come With Fierce Grace that documented the sessions from which the record emerged. Lados B serves a similar function to Fierce Grace and likewise inhabits a completely different sound and mood than its predecessor. The jams on Lados B sound slightly tentative at times; Parker never quite figures out what to do on opener “Traveling With,” and nearly all the songs begin with one musician introducing an idea and the others following, betraying the songs’ roots as essentially warm-ups. But it’s a testament to the trio’s formidable skills that Lados B hangs together despite the circumstances of its creation. On top of its bona-fides as a warm-weather album, Lados B provides the pleasure of hearing three top-tier players rediscover the joys of playing with each other in real time.
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