In early 2011, the Vertical Squirrels released their second CD based on a November 2010 live in the moment recording made in Guelph, Ontario. Winter's Gate, available on the Barcode Free Music label, features idiosyncratic free playing from the Squirrels, with strong groove elements, and surprising melodic forays supported by dissonant harmonies and unusual instrumental blendings.
Winter's Gate is a set of 11 musical tableaux based on winter images, local neighbourhood landmarks, and poetic fragments that gave rise to the collective improvisation. No overdubs were used on the recording and the CD represents the Vertical Squirrels' audacious brand of live musicking with virtually no studio intervention.
Highlight tracks include the atmospheric opening number "Winter's Gate," the driving funk piece "Santafunked," the haunting in-and-out-of-sync "The Pulse In this Great Sadness," and the quasi-pop tune turned inside-out, "Black Dog On White Ice."
As with their other recordings, Hold True (Ambiances Magnétiques), and Time of the Sign (also with Ambiances Magnétiques and featuring Jane Bunnett, Ben Grossman, and Scott Merritt) the Vertical Squirrels bring together an inventive blend of string sounds, using Heble's dense pianistic interweavings in tandem with Fischlin's textural use of the 12-string guitar, brilliantly supported by percussionist Warren's and bassist Melville's intuitive interlockings. Winter's Gate is a unique boundary- and genre-crossing exploration of what winter might sound like when improvised into being.
Bonus tracks hidden on the CD feature extracts from the first encounter with percussionist Warren, "A Rough Idea" (dedicated to Toronto impresario extraordinaire Ron Gaskin), found street sounds from the demonstrations that brought down the Pinochet government in Chile, and a sonic ode to frustration with Christmas wrappings. Winter's Gate is at once a whimsical blend of sonic impressions inspired by winter's impending arrival and a mix of exploratory musical iterations filled with humour, unexpected turns, and a deep commitment to in the moment musical explorations.
REVIEW: VERTICAL SQUIRRELS Winter’s Gate (Barcode Free Music) Garden pests or welcome guests—it depends on your proclivity for improvised instrumentals. The 14 pop, funk and, well, squirrelly tracks on this sophomore CD find the band honing in on their sound, running along the fence more than meandering around the yard. Most pieces feature the highly compressed, fuzzed-out lead guitar incursions of Daniel Fischlin, backed by circling piano cells, bass and clattering drums. Think Swell Maps circa Whatever Happens Next… with Nikki Sudden replaced by Robert Fripp. 8/10 Trial Track: “Gate, No Fence” (Lawrence Joseph, Montreal Mirror).