When you hear about Mike Noordzy, many different musical textures come to mind. While he has been featured on many rock records, he has always mixed things up and kept his options open. Some of the current or recent projects he’s been part of include El Noordzo, a bizarre combination of an Afro-Cuban jazz band that interprets music by Nirvana, The Misfits, Talking Heads, The Pixies, The Beatles, Radiohead. He is also half of the jazz duo, Fly Me to the Moon, which features guitarist Chris Welcome. He is featured with The High Standards trio, a group that focuses on early jazz and swing from 1900s to 1930s. He is also part of Mothguts; The Fuzz Pops, The Wright Trio and many other recording and live productions.
Mike Noordzy is an NJ-based musician and educator. He plays upright and electric bass in a variety of styles. He teaches privately at Rutgers University, Hudson Music Studios and Speak Music Conservatory. Mike also composes music for film and runs the experimental music label NACHT records. He holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Jazz Performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. Noordzy is also available for studio recording. His upright and electric bass work is heard on several rock, jazz, country, folk and experimental albums.
When it comes to describing his latest project, Noordzy has this to say. “When a shark dies, it stops swimming and falls to the ocean floor. Shark Funeral Songbook is a human projection of a mental soundtrack for both the dying shark and its extant surroundings. The essential tracks of SFS were recorded in a haunted century-old schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania in early 2017 by a core group of six musicians combining the bands El Noordzo and Triangulus. The music was composed while thinking about pyramids, staring at cats, and internalizing the rhythms of marine invertebrates. Much appreciation to Don Cherry, David Lynch, and the Velvet Underground.”
All songs were written, recorded and mixed by Mike Noordzy with additional mixing and mastering by Adam Vacarelli over at RetroMedia Sound Studios. Benjamin Clapp did the album cover artwork.
The record opens with the odd, dreamy, “Aiwass Says.” With tabla courtesy of David Freeman (Outer Bridge Ensemble, Biryani Boys, etc.). Aiwass is the voice of non-corporeal intelligence. Hypnotic and brimming with a pulse all to itself, “Aiwass Says” is a dark and enigmatic piece of musical composition. Guitars (courtesy of Chris Welcome) are phrase related and speak a language all to their own. Dark, foreboding and dangerously infective, they breathe life into the passages of dark imagery provided by Mike Noordzy’s songwriting skills. Reminds me of the band Portishead.
Up next is a piece titled “Strange Highway.” Featuring the masterful tenor saxophone wizardry of Jonathan Moritz (Secret Tempo, Evil Eye. The bassline falls in the Laswell/Wobble zone of dark reggae while the melody conjures a Native American-like folk phrase with a shade of Gagaku. Moritz blows through the dark and ominous passages as Noordzy and crew lay down a dangerous and spooky trail to follow. Guitars are the leader once again and move to the back when Moritz wails through complex percussive passages and bass lines. This piece is fantastic music that doesn’t follow the current trend of punk rock or Americana drivel; this is a real composition in the Avant Garde and jazz fields.
“Upper Centralia” is next. The description for this is “Reverb tank, babies crying, wolves howling, clockwork orange, Pharaoh Sanders, Pennsylvania’s burning.” Not a bad descriptive. It’s hard to say exactly who is playing what on this track except for Noordzy’s bass work, but the following list is everyone credited for playing on the record. Mike Noordzy – electric bass, upright bass, contra alto clarinet, Fender VI, guitar, piano, organ, harmonica, voice, percussion, sounds. Chris Welcome – guitar, synthesizer, percussion, voice, Michael Winnicki – drums, percussion, Greg Riss – conga, percussion, bells, Jake Schlaerth – keyboards, computers, sounds, Turner Matthews – wench, percussion, voice, sounds, Jon Francis – violin, Anthony Ware – alto saxophone, Jonathan Moritz – tenor and soprano saxophone, David Freeman – tabla, bells, percussion. Part James Bond scene music, part bizarre Stanley Kubrick, “Upper Centralia” is all original and mood related.
Next is a tune called “Donna.” A blend of ballad-like composition and jazzy inflected mysteries, “Donna” is an off kilter set of steps that wind their way down into the rabbit hole. Beautiful chord choices for guitar wind around drum brushes, stand-up bass, and sax work. The band considers this to be the make-out song. Bells are courtesy of Greg Riss (El Noordzo, Triangulus, etc.), soprano saxophone by Jonathan Moritz and further sound design/vocals/creepiness by Turner Matthews and Jake Schlaerth of Triangulus. Donna Hayward or Donna Martin. I love the way the song begins to fall wide open at around 3:30 into it. Dissonant chords and open lines dominate the structure as Noordzy holds down the theme. Percussion and bells go wide as things get to the end and wind down. “Donna” is a beautiful song that retains its natural direction of experimental sound with a cognitive directive of compositional voice.
Moving around the disc, I came to a song called “Tituba’s Garden Party.” Described as, “Droney rock in the people’s key (G),” it features saxophones by Anthony Ware, violins by Jon Francis (Out Like Lambs, Daughter Vision, etc.) One is invited to lose yourself in the relentless beat and hypnotic depths of drummer Michael Winnicki (El Noordzo, El Americano, etc.). And while I may agree to a certain extent as far as that description, I find the piece reminds me more of an almost ancient Scottish tome. Mix that with an experimental, 1960s psychedelic jazz flavor and you might get close to “Tituba’s Garden Party.”
As per usual, I don’t have space to cover every song on the disc, but I do recommend that you check this out. If you’re a pop music fan it may not be your cup of tea, but I think it’s edgy enough to appeal to even the most stringent of musical hipsters out there today. My take on the record is one of great admiration. Mike Noordzy never disappoints, and Shark Funeral Songbook is a substantial musical endeavor. This record is in a class all by itself. Part jazz improvisation, part experimental and all original, Noordzo has hit the nail on the proverbial head, and the result is a solid compositional excellence not seen anywhere else.
You can see Noordzo for yourself as they will be playing on Oct. 15 at Van Gough’s Ear in Union, New Jersey and Hopewell Creative Arts Studio in Hopewell, New Jersey on Oct. 27. For more information on Noordzo and their exceptional new record Shark Funeral Songbook, head on over to nachtrecords.com/album/shark-funeral-songbook.