Noertker's Moxie
Sketches of Catalonia, Vol. 1: Suite for Dalí


Annelise Zamula - saxes, flute
Jim Peterson - saxes,flute
Niels Myrner - drums
Bill Noertker - double bass
with special guest
Hugh Schick - trumpet


1) Galatea of the Spheres
2) Portrait of My Dead Brother
3) the Hats
4) Exploding Head in the Style of Raphael
5) Telephone Grilled Sardines at the End of September
6) the Chemist of Figueras Looks for Nothing at All
7) Family of Marsupial Centaurs

Inspired by the paintings of Salvador Dalí and bassist Bill Noertker’s journeys in Catalonia, Suite for Dalí takes you to the place where jazz melts into surrealism. What Dalí did for painting, this CD does for jazz. Deep swing morphs into circus melodies. Beauty fades into cacophony. At times raucous, at times pensive, always soulful, this CD takes you on an aural pilgrimage to Catalonia, birthplace of many innovative artists.

In the last decade, Bill Noertker has composed over 150 original pieces of music for jazz ensemble. His compositions point to the continuity between the jazz tradition and the avant-garde. His use of group improvisation and his attention to the individual voices of each of his bandmates call forth the human element so sorely missing from much of today’s jazz.

selected CD reviews


review by Ken Waxman

Arriving out of left field -- well, San Francisco at least -- this CD offers up West Coast jazz of unexpected verve and originality from a hitherto uncelebrated composer.

Composer and acoustic bass player here is Bill Noertker, 43, who usually plays with the Lords of Outland and in other groups with saxist Rent Romus. Someone who studied jazz history and theory with trumpeter Bobby Bradford and composing with Albert Ryz-Ryzky, the bassist also interacts musically with painters, writes soundtracks and pieces for dance and helps organize concerts in the Bay area.

Partisan of program music -- he’s also involved in writing a jazz ballet inspired by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies -- Noertker’s SKETCHES OF CATALONIA is a tribute to Salvador Dali (1904-1989), the Catalan painter whose work included dadaist, religious and mystic symbolism. Unwisely packaged with a cover that resembles the Miles Davis-Gil Evans collaboration, SKETCHES OF SPAIN, this CD is anything but a Young Lions take on the Davis-Evans masterwork.

SPAIN’s authority comes from Evans’ orchestrations and reinterpretations of an already existing concerto plus Davis’ soloing. SKETCHES, features seven original Noertker compositions with solo work split among the five capable members of his combo. Illustrative rather than interpretative, the tunes meander in and out of time, taking their shape from the initial thought processes rather than much use of extended techniques or compositional motifs.

Featuring two saxophonist-flautists, a trumpeter plus bass and drums, Moxie isn’t Evans’ brass-heavy 23-piece SPAIN band either. In execution, in fact, the work has much in common with post-bop/post-cool discourses. It’s sort of what you would expect to hear from an updated Shelly Manne and his Men or Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet. You could call it modern mainstream, if the neo-cons hadn’t desecrated that term with their rigid, backwards-looking musicality.

Perhaps it’s the freer Bay-area atmosphere in this live recording, but most of the tunes are jaunty and mannerly, true to Noertker’s conception without creating fake commotion or crowd pandering lines.

Dissonant touches seem to be at a minimum as well, except for the occasional tart overblowing or heartfelt slur from either Annelise Zamula, a former member of the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, or Jim Peterson. On tap for “Portrait of My Dead Brother” is ethereal double flute counterpoint from Peterson and Zamula. While wiggling unison reed lines surmounted by tenor saxophone honks are featured on “The Chemist of Figueras Looks for Nothing at All”, more often the two are involved in riffing or andante pecking.

Trumpeter Hugh Schick makes his presence felt with a chromatic solo over pedal point bass lines on “Telephone Grilled Sardines at the End of September”. Meanwhile polyharmonic horn passages and a tango rhythm from bass and drums presage impending war conflict much more clearly than another track, which Noertker insists, features “trance-inducing horn lines”.

In other spots Schick’s forte is light toned triplets, up-to-date, but not further out than Joe Gordon would have played with Manne or how Brownie played on his own with Roach. A steady timekeeper who favors press rolls, backbeats, hi-hat turnarounds and double flams, drummer Niels Myrner keeps things moving. Even Noertker only rarely varies his straightahead bass solos with rippling pizzicato effects and double-stopping slurred fingering.

“Family of Marsupial Centaurs”, is a foot tapper with waltz time harmonies and nasal, polyphonic reed tones. The final tune, with its rollicking, smeared textures and strummed then descending bass line, suggests Kurt Weill’s cabaret music, an irony when you recall Weill’s flight from Nazism, compared to Dali’s rapprochement with Generalissimo Franco.

Politics aside, Noertker’s SKETCHES OF CATALONIA is a fine disc that demands an encore. Considering it’s subtitled Vol. 1, that shouldn’t be too long in the offing.

from the e-zine
Improvijazzation Nation

review by Rotcod Zzaj

As with any CD from "Edgetone Records", this ain't what you (might) think it is.  I mean, th' title makes it sound kinda' "regular", but after the first 24 bars, you'll realize you're along on a ride through helter-skelter like you ain't never been on!  Bill Noertker's bass drives th' horns from Dixieland on "around th' world in 80 minutes" (or somethin' like that), diggin' it all th' way!  Supreme jazz sounds, heavy on th' horns, but with rhythms that come from nearly ev'ry region of th' globe.  These are much more than random sketches, though, fully fleshed-out abstract paintings, that Dalí would have been proud of (if he dug jazz, that is).  Little snatches of crowd noise make you realize that both the players & the audience were havin' FUN with this, journeying together, if you will.  Th' real beauty, though, is that while the music embraces the "out", there's enough of the "in" to make it a very accessible listen - so, it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for jazz listeners of all persuasions.

from the e-zine
Aiding & Abetting

review by Jon Worley

Bill Noertker plays the bass, but he writes songs for the ensemble. So while there are a few kick ass bass solos, the important stuff here lies in the whole. That sort of old-school approach is a bit unusual coming from Edgetone (whose releases tend to be a bit more off-track), though the quality and intensity certainly fits the label's profile.

I don't know enough about jazz to be able to pin a distinct reference on Noertker and company, but this does remind me of the sorta thing Coltrane was doing at Atlantic back in the late 50s—traditional fare with a few added brighteners. Certainly, the two-sax attack (Annelise Zamula and Jim Peterson play both flute and sax, and they often play the same instrument in a given song) doesn't hurt in making that connection in my ears. Then there's the title and cover, which mimic "Sketches of Spain," the classic Miles Davis album. This is a quartet, not a "big" band—as on that record—but I suppose you could make an argument for a similarity in feel. Me, I just think it's a sly joke.

The production sound, too, is somewhat dated. Well, not exactly. But these tracks do sound like old recordings. The tone is very warm, which is probably an effect of the two-track live recording. Whatever the reason, the feel is very inviting.

Each piece is named after (and inspired by) a Salvador Dalí painting. Again, these songs aren't particularly surreal, but the complexity of the writing is more than enough to give a good sense of the visual originals. Quite well done.

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review by Ben Bostwick

Good modern bop from a local group, their sound reminds me a lot of something you might hear on CIMP. There's some great solos here, epecially Zamula and Peterson on sax, as well as some interesting group improvisation. The liner notes explain the connection between the songs and the Dalí paintings they're named for, though I think a true surrealist band would have a tuba. There's some excellent stuff here regardless.

review by
Steve Koenig
Editor, JumpArtsJournal.org

Good chamber jazz with a slant; what else would suit this homage to the great Catalan surrealist by bassist Bill Noertker's ensemble? Musically, the style recalls the whimsical side of the ensembles of Steve Lacy or Charles Mingus, especially on the more raucous numbers. Very nice sax doubling from both Annelise Zamula and Jim Peterson, and Hugh Schick guesting on trumpet. On "the Hats," the leader arcos a cleverly near-pop figure. Niels Myrner's drumming is deliberately unsubtle, a lot of fun. The dragged and martial "Telephone Grilled Sardines at the End of September" is clever and moving.

I don't detect anything specifically programmatic, although the works are named after Dalí paintings, understandably not reproduced here (the cost would be prohibitive).  The liner notes are informative about the composer's intent and each tune's relation to the paintings. The disc grows stronger upon each listen, and withstands close listening.  Moxie, indeed, as is the parody of the cover of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain.

The next two volumes will be tributes to the other world-reknowned Catalans, Joan Miró (when I was a kid, I thought there was this woman named Joan My-row who made cutesy paintings, all the rage in the '60s... not a ground-breaking artist from Catalunya) and Antoni Gaudí. All three artists have had a profound influence on me; a visit to Barcelona to visit Gaudí's Sagrada Familia cathedral and his melted fairyland park was, for me, an equivalent to visiting China's Great Wall; in itself reason enough to make a pilgrimage. I can't wait to hear how Noertker will distill and translate these works into music. This two-track concert DAT recording has a reasonable amount of color. Another winner for this small California label.