Graded on a Curve:
Bing & Ruth,
Tomorrow was the Golden Age

Formed in the middle of last decade by music students attending New York City’s New School, the minimalist ensemble Bing & Ruth is led by pianist-composer David Moore. Possessing compositional breadth and instrumental sturdiness to potentially engage fans of Steve Reich, Brian Eno, and even assorted post-rockers, Tomorrow was the Golden Age, their second full-length and first for RVNG Intl. features the group executing Moore’s album-length piece across four sides of vinyl (CD and digital options are also available).

Even if one lacks familiarity with Bing & Ruth (and please don’t confuse them with Big & Rich), numerous other avenues do exist for listeners to make the acquaintance of David Moore. Most recently there’s the indie-Americana of Pepper Johnson, a solo project responsible for last year’s digital-only collection Flat Country, and The Piledrivers, a hot-burning string-band trio where Moore plucks banjo, their self-titled CD also appearing in 2013.

Both are available through Moore’s Happy Talk Recordings, the label additionally issuing a pair of his solo piano titles, ‘05’s Book of Days (initially circulated privately) and ‘07’s Neighborhood Shifts; between them sits Bing & Ruth’s self-titled ’06 debut, its follow-up Kenitle Floors appearing later in ’07. On top of this activity he has scored for film, theater, and instillation and plays live in a variety of contexts ranging from NYC’s New Music/avant-garde haunts to lending his banjo/keyboard to the band of Scott Scolnick aka Langhorne Slim.

While Bing & Ruth and Kenitle Floors are categorized by Moore as EPs, they are in fact lengthier than the format’s norm, offering durations complemented with unstrained ambition to raise the overall value considerably. Amongst other qualities, elements aptly assessed as Reichian combine with contemporary vigor as a highly versatile wordless vocal component is utilized to powerful effect.

Apparent on each EP is Moore’s ability as a composer, though unsurprisingly, Book of Days and Neighborhood Shifts spotlight this talent for writing as they provide unhidden evidence of his skills as a player. And everything came together quite nicely on Bing & Ruth’s City Lake, a 2010 release currently available on 2LP and digital through Happy Talk.

Bing & Ruth arrived eight members strong as Kenitle Floors adjusted some personnel and increased the participation by one. On City Lake the number swelled to eleven as it retained the employment of vocals and doubled-up on clarinets and cellos. After a sizeable hiatus (the break resulting in Pepper Johnson and The Piledrivers, both pleasant affairs but frankly less interesting than Bing & Ruth) Moore has reconvened, the lineup trimmed down to a rather svelte seven.

Gone is the use of the human voice, though the present roster, namely Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner on clarinets, Mike Effenberger operating the tape delay, Leigh Stuart on cello, and Jeff Ratner and Greg Chudzik on basses, all figure into the Bing & Ruth scenario prior to Tomorrow Was the Golden Age, as Brian Bender returns from City Lake to co-produce with Moore.

As stated, Bing & Ruth’s newest is an album-length composition. If that seems to foretell a possible gateway into the formidable, in addition to the inherent pauses of double vinyl the music contains multiple shifts designated by individual titles. Side one begins quietly via Moore’s piano, though with very little delay “Warble” climbs in volume and intensity.

As Moore gathers force his clusters and strands of notes are enveloped and propelled by a methodically gliding yet weighty field of resonant tones. Ethereal aspects are certainly here but are given crucial backbone, and after cohering into a worthy opening statement the environment wastes no time in dissipating, gradually fading out as the arrival of cascading keys and washes of effects signal a transition into the measured, contemplative piano that anchors the tranquil prettiness of “TWTGA.”

It’s a melody recalling Moore’s early solo stuff, gentle as it unfolds and unwavering in its repetition. Following is “Just Like the First Time,” which matches the keyboard, similar in approach but not as melodious as and more meditative than in the previous section, to the thick heft of Stuart’s cello. The sound ebbs and flows, interweaving the modernist-minimalist characteristics in Moore’s playing with the ambient-tinged manner established by his counterparts. Much of the track flirts with a tense mood, though it concludes with a slightly brighter ambiance.

Side two opens on the substantially brisker “Police Police Police Police Police.” Herein, Moore’s assertive, cyclical handiwork tightens the acknowledged connection to NYC-based minimalism while never being overly indebted to it. Along the way his partners enhance the atmosphere through swirls and patterns less immediately genre-taggable.

Tomorrow Was the Golden Age’s quieter moments might seem better suited for a background role, but as tipped-off in RVNG’s promo material the music also functions as a rewarding deep listening experience via headphones. This is made especially evident by the extremely low-volume additives that are found in “Strange Wind,” reverberating perhaps like air escaping from opened valves or even the timbre of a patiently operating respirator.

Side three commences with the somewhat drone situated drift of “The Towns We Love is Our Town,” rumbling low tones met by a sprinkling of Moore’s high notes as it subtly gains in forcefulness. It leads into “We Are On the Side of Angels,” percussion and streams of aural color accentuating the sparseness of the keyboard, and it’s here that RVNG’s reference to Morton Feldman is most perceptible. The impact of Moore’s extensive studies is easily manifest throughout, however.

“Reflector” starts the final side, its stately piano figures contrasting with rising and falling waves of sound, and roughly mid-way through a precise and very beautiful sonic ascension begins. Gracefully closing is “Postcard from Brilliant Orange”; it holds some of Moore’s warmest playing on the album as the rest of the ensemble embellishes his delivery with unperturbed currents of abstraction.

For those already conversant with Bing & Ruth it should be readily clear that Tomorrow Was the Golden Age doesn’t attempt anything comparable to the slowly building Modern Classical cacophony of last record’s “City Lake/Tu Swe Uwe,” a track that upon first hearing can drop one’s jaw. The objective here is different, but it’s ultimately no less satisfying.

It can be tempting to describe the music, partially due to its instrumental nature, as unwinding like a film score, though there’s actually a major difference at hand. Composed soundtracks, even the exceptional examples, are designed to augment the communicative power of images. But even in Tomorrow Was the Golden Age’s more serene segments a vastly important sharpness of focus is plain, and if united with moving pictures the visuals would conversely be in service to Bing & Ruth’s assured progression of sound.


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