Friday, February 22, 2019

Lori Goldston/Judith Hamann - alloys (Marginal Frequency)

Two extended duos for cellists Goldston and Hamann. I'm guessing the pieces have some degree of compositional structure but allow for significant improvisation. The shapes they limn are difficult to describe. Not for any abstruse reason, more due to the relatively "traditional" sound-world they create that's applied to an amorphous, shifting framework. They tend to stick to arco, more often than not inhabiting the low to mid-ranges of the instrument. What extended techniques are employed are kept to a minimum. Indeed, a given 10-second extract might well sound rather romantic. Dynamics vary section by section--each 26+ minute "suite" is at least nominally divided into five episodes--and the activity level also ebbs and flows, sometimes offering long, droning stretches, other times much more agitated, though the overall sensation I have is one of calm, thoughtful pondering. While there's contrast between the instruments, the pair really seem to act as one, each line entwined with the other, an oddly moving aspect of the music in and of itself. The music grows exceptionally intense and stirring over the last few minutes of the second track. I'm at somewhat of a loss to offer any other descriptors except to say that I enjoyed it greatly and have returned to it often.

Skylark Quartet - Live in Tokyo (Marginal Frequency)

Back in my youth, one of the dozen or so first jazz recordings I bought was Sonny Rollins' 'Next Album' (Milestone, 1972). That record closed with a rendition of 'Skylark' which began with several minutes of unaccompanied tenor from Rollins. It may still be my single favorite tenor saxophone performance ever. This has little to do with the recording in question here, but...

The Skylark Quartet is shrouded in a bit of mystery. They've had two prior releases that I'm aware of, though I've heard neither: a 2014 cassette on Bánh Mì Verlag and a 2016 12" vinyl on Tonkatsu. On the first, there are, apparently, two versions of the standard, 'Skylark', on the latter, ten. For 'Live in Tokyo', they've switched to a label whose name bears no gastronomic connections but have retained their repertoire, this time offering eleven takes on, yes, 'Skylark'. To further confound matters, the personnel listed--Orlando Lewis, clarinet; Franz-Ludwig Austenmeiser; Hayden Pennyfeather, bass; Roland Spindler, drums--are fictitious. Enumerated on the interior of the sleeve as "observers" are Kanji Nakao, Sam Sfirri, Taku Unami and Reiji Hattori, who I assume are the musicians responsible, though I guess I could be wrong.

In any case, we have eleven tracks based (usually very loosely based) on 'Skylark', a tack I imagine was taken on the previous releases. An interesting idea, to be sure. And it works just fine. Vestiges of the Mercer/Carmichael song percolate up now and then, as does at least one other standard, 'Star Eyes', maybe 'Tenderly', quite possibly others I'm not picking up, though the general atmosphere is one of gentle abstraction. Indeed, it fits in rather well, if more overtly musical, with the kind of performances Unami has been constructing over at least the past decade: informal, mundane, yet infused with an almost impossible to quantify poetic aspect. The first piece begins with shuffling about, things falling over (shades of Unami's cardboard boxes), low grunts, etc. until, almost reluctantly, vague dollops of bass guitar emerge. There's a ghostly disassociatedness, a drifting that recalls, just a little, Bryars' '1,2-1,2,3,4', as though the quartet members are in different parts of a building, slowly making their way towards one another, using their instruments as sonic feelers. The first glimpse of the 'Skylark' melody (at least, that I can detect), peeks through on the second track via clarinet, lingers, mutates a good bit, slips away. It's kind of like this throughout--quiet, relaxed, almost heedless of affect, coalescing now and then as though by whim, stumbling onward. For all the seeming looseness, the are audible expressions of relief, of breaks in tension, at the end of several tracks, causing me to guess at heightened levels of control being in play. The disc ends with a cough.

It's really marvelous work, quite unique, playfully serious and well worth checking out. I'm curious to see its lifespan--hopefully for a while yet.

Marginal Frequency

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