Now running for about a quarter century, The Scavenger Quartet is the brainchild of composer/tinkerer Frank Pahl. The group's sound draws on both the unusual choice of instruments: toy piano, organ, siren, euphonium, doublebass, flute, tenor saxophone and drums are just the start of the mix. Add to that a charming variety of musical automotons that Pahl builds- occsionally with the aid of Tim Holmes- from small motors, rotisseries, sewing machine parts etc. The resulting music is curiously unique and just as often lovely as edgey.
Frank Pahl (euphonium, farfisa, guitar, ukulele, toy piano, automoton design)
Joel Peterson (double bass, guitar, percussion)
Tim Holmes (tenor and soprano saxophone, alto fulte, bass recorder, toys)
Doug Gourlay (drum kit, percussion)
2001 Whistling for Leftovers (Snodonia)
2005 We Who Live on Land (Acidsoxx Musik)
2012 Hats (Acidsoxx Musik)
“Scavenger Quartet is a formation around the American composer and multi-instrumentalist Frank Pahl. We Who Live On Land is at least the second album by this band - that can't be said for sure.
If you study the scoring information, you will notice that many instruments that are not typical for rock are used here. The most exotic is probably the euphonium, an instrument that I didn't even know by name. It is a brass instrument that is similar in sound and appearance to a tuba. The list of instruments used is also more curious than it looks in the translation above. The piano is actually listed as a "toy piano", and "toys" are also listed as an additional instrument.
"Toy" is a good starting point to describe the quartet's music. There is something playful to almost childishly naive about it. But don't worry, music is not played here on the "Schni-Schna-Schnappi" level. The music cannot really be categorized: there are jazzy, folk and also a little classical influences audible, but these are not so clear that one could now speak of jazz rock, folk rock or classical rock.
The pieces, the titles of which all have a maritime reference (matching the cover), are primed by all sorts of percussion and / or the pounding sound of the "toy piano", above which are predominantly melodies carried by wind instruments, which in a strange way are simultaneously melancholy and burlesque. It sounds particularly beautiful when Frank Pahl takes up the euphonium, as in Crimson Jellyfish , even if the tuba-like sounds don't necessarily evoke associations with such a delicate structure as a jellyfish.
Another highlight is Shy Polyps . The polyps do not seem so shy at all, but rather exuberant, almost happily portrayed by the flute and piano.Sometimes the music becomes a bit avant-garde and dissolves into largely free sounds. Sea Mirage is such a formless sound structure with a strong electronic component. Nevertheless, this piece is also characterized by a certain ironic lightness.
So far so good. The four of them sometimes exaggerate their childish naivety and then sound a little silly or sweet, but view of so many beautiful ideas, that doesn't matter. In any case, We Who Live On Land offers beautiful, unpretentious music that goes beyond the usual prog clichés” —Jochen Rindfrey Baby Blue (Germany)
The Michigan-based instrumental outfit Scavenger Quartet, led by multi-instrumentalist and automated instrument inventor Frank Pahl, follows its sea creature-themed 2005 album “We Who Live on Land” with a new full-length album oddly centered on a variety of headwear, entitled “Hats.” Those familiar with Pahl’s solo efforts or his work with ensembles such as Little Bang Theory, which only uses children’s toy instruments, will recognize many of his trademark sonic details, such as the use of bells and melodicas, called his “autopercussion.”
Such distinctive methods make “Hats”hard to pin down or cleanly associate with any genre, although there are hints toward jazz approaches. The most obvious is the “The Phrygian Cap,” possibly the album’s most swinging track, distinguished for being in 5/4 time and having a Dave Brubeck Quartet “Take Five”-esque vibe. “Julia’s Dirty Secret” also has jazz-flavored drumming from seasoned percussionist Doug Gourlay, but it’s far from conventional, with nice incongruous touches such as banjo plinks, warm and low euphonium tones, and struck and plucked behind-the-bridge string notes.
One of the more unusual pieces is “The Mercurial Temper of the Mad Hatter,” which has an endearing messiness and carries a distinct character, aided by bowed upright-bass lines with an eccentric charm from Joel Peterson (of Immigrant Suns). Reedist and pianist Tim Holmes has an understated yet amiable style on the saxophone and flute, enhancing the lightness of the proceedings.
When listening to Scavenger Quartet, the eclectic chamber-pop-rock outfit Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Martin Denny’s exotica come to mind, because of an uncommon, transportive atmosphere that is evoked. But in the case of Scavenger Quartet, that sonic destination isn’t rooted in any genre or time period, bringing the listener to a comforting, yet somewhat strange and gentle world” —Ernie Paik Metro Pulse