Posts Tagged “Piano”

VictoireCD cover

Cathedral City

music of Missy Mazzoli

New Amsterdam Records

 

Victoire is Missy Mazzoli: compositions, keyboards, piano, melodica, toys; Olivia De Prato: violin; Lorna Krier: keyboards; Eileen Mack: clarinet; Eleonore Oppenheim: double bass, electric bass

  1. A Door into the Dark
  2. i am coming for my things
  3. Cathedral City
  4. Like a Miracle
  5. The Diver
  6. A Song for Mick Kelly
  7. A Song for Arthur Russell
  8. India Whiskey

Victoire is an ensemble that is hard to categorize. On the one hand, this is an instrumental chamber group that (on this album) is championing the music of one of its members. Mazzoli’s compositional voice is clear and focused, she definitely has something to say. The textures of the music, the timbres in the ensemble, the use of synthesizers and electronics, though, make Victoire appear less like a conventional chamber ensemble and more like a “band.” Unlike Build, a similar genre-bending group on the same label, Victoire’s connection to either the “chamber music” or “popular music” worlds is much more fluid. You can love or hate this group based on whichever camp you find yourself.

But enough about what Victoire is not. Mazzoli’s compositions are smooth and flowing with a aura of emotional detachment. Harmonies are comforting, long lyrical lines are abundant, and Mazzoli finds exciting ways to provide rhythmic propulsion without a dedicated percussionist. The music simmers. Distorted guitar in A Song for Mick Kelly could have plunged that track into some real spleen-venting thrash but Mazzoli shows excellent restraint and control. This isn’t minimalism, this isn’t pop, this is simply Mazzoli. Her compositional voice is distinct and highly listenable. Events unfold slowly, unhurried, but never lagging or taking too long.

Each player in Victoire blends extremely well with the various synth and electronic sounds that form the sound world of each track. I am especially drawn to the juxtaposition of bubbling synths and the lyrical line of the double bass in Like a Miracle. The various breathy and hollow synth sounds are well chosen for their blend.

Many vocal elements permeate the compositions but again, there is a distancing of those emotionally charged elements from the listener. i am coming for my things replicates an answering machine message rich with emotional potential. India Whiskey uses the same technique of distancing a vocal element by manipulating a “number station” recording of a male voice counting over radio static. This static becomes the rhythmic motivator of the track as well as a timbral touchstone for the synths and instruments. I fear that a lot of the discussion about Victoire is going to revolve around the “what are they/what aren’t they.” I would much rather put that conversation aside and focus on their product: Intriguing music of our time, expertly crafted, performed, and produced.

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Glass Heart

Orange Mountain Music CD 7006

Maria Bachmann, violin

Jon Klibonoff, piano

When it comes to minimalism, I must admit I’ve always been more of a Steve Reich guy. But I was quite taken with Philip Glass’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano (2008), the work at the heart of a new disc on the composer’s Orange Mountain Music label. This world premiere recording by violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff highlights a Romantic urgency I hadn’t heard in Glass’s music before. Indeed, Glass’s program note cites a childhood memory of listening to recordings of the Brahms, Fauré and Franck violin sonatas with his father, at the time a record-store owner in Baltimore.

The fundamental Romanticism of Glass’s piece is underscored by Bachmann and Klibonoff’s programming, which places his recent duo alongside nineteenth-century staples: the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, and Schubert’s magisterial Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 162 (in the liner notes, Bachmann notes a “similar pathos” shared by the Schubert and Glass sonatas). The disc is rounded out by Ravel’s intriguing Sonata Opus Posthume, a work written in 1897 but left unpublished at the composer’s request, only to be discovered and published in 1975.

I first encountered Bachmann and Klibonoff on their eloquent recording of Paul Moravec’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy, a work composed for their ensemble, Trio Solisti, and clarinetist David Krakauer. The warmth and assurance of their playing is such that I would happily listen to them play most anything, canonical or contemporary, and their commitment to new American music is a boon to composers and audiences alike.

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Charlemagne Palestine   

Strumming Music

(piano, harpsichord, and string ensemble versions)

Sub Rosa

Upon first cracking open this 3-CD collection of Strumming by Charlemagne Palestine, I saw the brief newspaper article by John Rockwell who tells the tale of a Palestine performance cut short because the composer was playing a Steinway and not a Bösendorfer (“cut short” is relative since the piece lasted 2.5 hours instead of 4).  The article presents the situation as an acute case of “diva-itis” but when I heard the original version of Strumming (even listed as “for Bösendorfer piano”) and heard the massive clouds of overtones and sympathetic vibrations, I could see why Palestine would not be pleased with a Steinway instrument.  So much of the piano version of Strumming doesn’t happen at the keyboard but in the air around it.  The incessant keyboard hammerings melts into waves of sound much like dots in a Seurat painting.  Around the 17 minute mark of this 52 minute performance from 1974 my brain couldn’t hear the keyboard anymore – just the spectra of the harmonies pushing against each other.  The cresting wave around 30 minutes is an absolutely transcendent ride as is the surrender to the “power chords” 7 minutes later.  I trust Charlemagne Palestine to deliver what he wants me to hear and this recording is one you can trust.  As much as I would love to hear a more recent, higher-resolution, and longer version of the work, I think it is hard to call this performance anything other than definitive.  It makes the 12 minute version of Strumming on the Godbear album feel like a 5 Second Film.

In addition to Palestine performing on Bösendorfer, the Sub Rosa collection has two other versions: one for harpsichord performed by Betsy Freeman in 1977 and one for a string ensemble organized at the SF Conservatory by John Adams in that same year.  The harpsichord version weighs in at 35 minutes and is probably the closest to providing an actual “strum” aesthetic although without the pronounced melting of sustained sonic spectra.  Freeman’s technique and treatment of the material is compelling and well paced.  Some folks might approach a harpsichord version of Strumming with extreme distaste but there is no reason to avoid this wonderful performance.

I found the string ensemble version (about 25 minutes long) to be surprisingly sustained whereas the keyboards furiously chug away.  There is nary a tremolo to be heard nor any other picturesque technical tricks that one would expect from string ensemble writing.  The harmonic journey is laid bare and exposed in a frail and naked manner.  It is this string version that I really hope gets taken up and revisited in a longer and higher quality recording (at least one without coughing).  As a minor quibble, I’m not sure why this is sold as a 3 disc set since the harpsichord and string versions could comfortably fit on a single disc.  True, there are few of us who will spin all versions back-to-back-to-back, but I always bristle when I have a disc with so much dead space by a composer known for extended compositions.

While these recordings are supposedly of the same piece of music, each of these versions contains a different element of “truth” to them.  Each stands squarely on its own as a performance of a hypnotic and unique compositional voice instead of sounding as mere arrangements of the original piano version.  These three recordings are interconnected the same way that good film/book pairings (2001, Blade Runner) contain the core of the work while still showcasing different distinct artistic visions.

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Trio Fibonacci

5 x 3

Centredisques

  • Ana Sokolovic – Portrait parle
  • Paul Frehner – Quarks Tropes
  • Jean Lesage – Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres
  • Analia Llugdar – Tricycle
  • Chris Paul Harman – Piano Trio

Julie-Anne Derome, violin; Gabriel Prynn, violoncello; Anna D’Errico, piano

Trio Fibonacci is quite a group.  I first heard them on their recording of Jonathan Harvey works a few years back and I am astounded at their ability to program and perform Old Warhorses alongside cutting-edge contemporary music.  This recent release, 5 x 3, plays to the trio’s strengths in technique and interpretation providing an end result of excellent music making.  All of the composers represented have some connection to the Montreal new music scene but beyond that, the five compositions provide unique experiences.  Ana Sokolovic’s Portrait parle, inspired by 19th century French phrenology practices, is reminiscent of the sparkling colors and shifting hazes found in Jonathan Harvey.  The trio is made of many small vignettes which are woven together in a compelling and kaleidoscopic narrative.  Paul Frehner’s Quarks Tropes is about as different as it could be: long, stoic melodic lines and dark harmonic tones in the first movement and aggressive energies in the second.  The more conservative harmonic language is still fresh and inviting as both movements traverse satisfying emotional arcs.

Le projet Mozart, où l’auteur s’interroge sur la complexité du style et le métissage des genres (The Mozart Project, where the author questions himself on the complexity of styles and mixing of genres), other than winning long title competitions, shines a wondrous magnifying lens on the music of Mozart and watches it melt and subsequently catch fire.  Jean Lesage treats the Mozart as an elusive figure, slipping in and out of recognizability with remarkable skill.  The music could, and does, go anywhere at any time.  Analia Llugdar’s Tricycle brings back the coloristic sound world of the Sokolovic trio but with an emphasis on pointalistic moments and slowly developing shapes.  Energies ebb and flow throughout the piece but the overall vibe projected is one of almost serene detachment.

The final composition on this disc is Chris Paul Harman’s Piano Trio, set in six brief movements.  This composition gives Trio Fibonacci yet another chance to shine since it contains some of the most intricate and quickly orchestrated material on the entire disc.  Trio Fibonacci is adept at sounding as a singular unit as well as three separate virtuosi but this Piano Trio gives Trio Fibonacci the presence of 9 people.  The overall rough and rugged language (pitch and rhythm) is a great contrast to the delicate works which proceeded it and its closing position on the disc is a good choice.  The silky smooth and poignant ending in movements 5 and 6 (attaca) is a surprise (which I’ve ruined for you now but it is still worth hearing).

In general, there is hardly anything left that you should want from this disc.  The excellent music, fabulous performances, and great programming have kept this disc in my regular rotation for quite some time.

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Giancinto Scelsi  CD Cover art

Tre Canti Popolari

Due Componimenti Impetuosi

Sub Rosa record

  • Tre Canti Popolari: Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto, Vincent Bouchot – baritone, Paul Gérimon – bass
  • Duo:  Georg-Alexander Van Dam – violin, Jean-Paul Dessy – cello
  • Wo Ma: Paul Gérimon – bass
  • Sauh:  Marianne Pousseur – soprano, Lucy Grauman – alto
  • Aitsi:   Jean-Luc Fafchamps – piano
  • Sonate #4:  Johan Bossers – piano
  • Suite #11:  Johan Bossers – piano

Vocal chamber music and solo piano works form the bulk of this two disc assortment of Scelsi’s music on Sub Rosa.  Being mostly familiar with Scelsi’s instrumental chamber music, I was anxious to hear how he wrote for unaccompanied voices.  Tre Canti Popolari does not disappoint at all.  All of the focus and dramatic tension from Scelsi’s string quartets is transfered beautifully into the vocal medium.  The four performers sound tremendously good.  The blend is sublime but there is never a sense of monochromaticism.  The vocalists’ sensitivity and balance between independence and ensemble elevate this already stunning composition.  I am also a big fan of the male voice selections, specifically the choice of baritone and bass instead of tenor/bass or tenor/baritone.  Sclesi’s natural darkness gets accentuated by the darker vocal colors.  As enamored as I am with the quartet’s performance, I am equally enamored with Paul Gérimon’s interpretation of Wo Ma and Marianne Pousseur’s and Lucy Grauman’s performance of Sauh. These soulful performances wring every note for its full amount of nuance and emotion.  The only thing better would be hearing it live.

The Duo for violin and cello is a bit of an outlier on this disc being the only work that involves strings.  The piece is well executed and serves as a great sonic break for the vocal pieces.  The composition is lithe and intense, disquieting and expressive.  The first disc closes with the solo piano work Aitsi and Scelsi’s piano music, once again, has the ability to captivate with extremely little surface activity.  The opening punctuations of Aitsi are sudden and harsh, at first obscuring the delicious amplified distortion.  After several thwacks, though, the vibrant electronic sounds nourish the chords into longer and richer lifespans.

Disc two of this set is comprised of solo piano works composed about a decade before anything on the first CD (with the exception of the short 2 years between Suite #11 and Tre Canti Popolari).  In Piano Sonata #4, from 1942, I can hear the aural conflict between the musical language of the time and the language Scelsi would later develop.  The first movement is thorny and jagged but the low register melody meanders in an unusually drunken-yet-focused way.  Movement two, with its open harmonies and tenderly dark melody, hints at the expressive power of his later compositions while the final movement is spastic and rough with a singular trajectory.

Suite #11 is a real trip.  To my ears, I hear Scelsi experimenting with alternate ways of organizing and expressing his musical nature.  Each of the nine movements contains a stream-of-consciousness feel that keeps the piece, however loosely, from breaking apart into musical atoms.  The energies present in the piece reminds me of the rugged atonal expressionist American composers from the early 20th century such as Ruggles and Ornstein – the time when free atonality was brash and expansive instead of smug and superior (but maybe I’m romanticizing that a bit).  Suite #11 is wild, unhinged, and Johan Bossers plays it with the right amount of control and furor.

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Elodie Lauten  

Piano Works (revisited)

Unseen Worlds

I was surprised when the two-disc collection of piano music (composed and performed) by Elodie Lauten had me entranced from the opening of the first track: Cat Counterpoint.  I approached this particular track with a fair amount of apprehension.  I’ve simply been around too many instances of composers using their pet’s meanderings on music instruments as source material.  Any hesitation I felt towards the track melted away within seconds.  Instead of Lolcats, the room filled with driving and energetic punctuations.  You can’t judge a track by its title.

The collected Piano Works from 1983 take the lead on the first disc: Cat Counterpoint, Revelation, Adamantine Sonata, Alien Heart, and Imaginary Husband make for excellent character pieces as well as a cycle of works.  There is a foundation in minimalism present, as one would expect from an icon of the Downtown scene.  Lauten’s minimalist language is one full of play and punk, separating it from the austere minimalism found safely inside textbooks.  The underlying simplicity lends to a strong sense of flow over process.  Each piece creates a moment that rarely extends beyond itself nor do they need to extend.  These 1983 pieces were constructed with an ear and not a slide rule.  I find Adamantine Sonata particularly charming.

The inclusion of ambient sound and supporting electronics is frequent in the 1983 works and the technique is put in overdrive for Lauten’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory. This 1984 set uses a quilt of disconnected instrumental and electronic textures to create eight signature moments.  Each of these segments is strongly focused around a shape, texture, or groove and throughout the segment’s lifespan the idea simply is.  There is a zen element in this concerto, each track is totally of the moment.  Some listeners may want more of a sense of trajectory and dramatic shape but I am not among them.  These moments are what they are and as such they are fascinating.  The spacious Orchestral Memory and the cheeky Tempo di Habanera form polar opposites of affect and, for that very reason, appeal to me the most.  Disc one closes with a fairly straight-ahead Tango with a mournful and husky vocal line.

If you are looking for a deep end off which to go, then disc two will be happy to serve you.  Instead of many short tracks, disc two provides two beefy works: Variations on the Orange Cycle and Sonate Modale. Any criticisms laid out about disc one’s lack of trajectory can be laid to rest in Orange Cycle. Within the opening seconds I knew I was going to be here for a while, letting the hypnotic and resonant sounds wash over me, La Monte Young-style.  After about seventeen minutes, Lauten does the most amazing thing.  The low drone, the foundation of the very work, goes away.  The listener drifts and floats, untethered for some time, and when the low voice returns it is not the same static firmament we had left behind us.  Where I expected the drone to reassert itself, it never finds full strength again.  The piece closes on that drone pitch but with uncertainty, timidity, and quiet.  The world of the piece has changed and Lauten did not take the easy way out.  Variations on the Orange Cycle is worth every second.

Sonate Modale, in this live recording from Toronto in 1985, is a rather intimate experience.  I felt as though I was a fly on the wall while Lauten created all the 1983 pieces and the Concerto. The ambient electronic environments are cut from the same cloth as the earlier pieces and the live piano meanders through gestures and stream-of-consciousness improvisations.  Dramatically, the piece works well as a whole, as if Lauten decided to stich together the quilt of the Concerto.

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Red Garuda / Rilke Songs / Bagatelles /

Piano Quintet

Peter Serkin, James Conlon, New York Philharmonic, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Orion String Quartet

Bridge Records
First, a clarification: “Red Garuda” is not the name of  a gangster, a professional wrestler, or a rodeo cowboy. Garudas are colossal bird-like creatures that exist in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology. A golden Garuda is the symbol of Indonesia and the name of its national airline. A red Garuda is the national symbol of Thailand. More to the point of why contemporary American composer Peter Lieberson (b.1946) chose this title for his work for piano and orchestra, the Garuda is said to be capable of flying vast distances without tiring and of changing its shape and size. Thus, the creature can be taken as an emblem of absolute freedom, of a life unrestricted by conventional limitations. The inspiration for the creative artist is clear. As Lieberson explains it, “Before I began composing the piece, I had a dream vision of sitting on the back of a huge Garuda flying over different kinds of landcapes.” The work premiered, significantly, in 1999, the year the composer married his wife, the late, beloved mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. The wonderful upsurge of powerful emotion one encounters in the 25 minute work may well reflect the joy he felt at this time.

 Red Garuda is listed as Lieberson’s second piano concerto, but is really more a symphonic poem with a piano soloist, much in the way that Scriabin’s Poem of Fire is. The analogy is not an idle one, as Lieberson employs Scriabinesque pulsating chords, tubular bells, and powerful contributions from the lower strings and bass drum to portray the Garuda’s emergence from the darkness and the apprehensive atmosphere of a pre-dawn world. This striking introduction, powerfully realized by pianist Peter Serkin and by the New York Philharmonic under James Conlon, gives way to variations symbolizing the ancient elements of Fire, Water, and Earth combined with Wind, as the Garuda soars over continents and oceans.

Eastern mythology is one thing. But when it comes to the verse of German language Austro-Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), that’s something else! I must confess I’m beyond my depth when it comes to explicating lines such as “Oh be inspired for the flame, in which a Thing disppears and bursts into something else; the spirit of re-creation which masters this earthly form, loves most the pivoting point where you are no longer yourself.” While even Lieberson admits there are lines in Rilke that defy exact explanation, the sense one gets in Rilke of continual transformation, of becomings rather than endings, obviously appeals strongly to him as a composer. That he could draw on the interpretive insights of his wife and of his frequent collaborator Peter Serkin in his settings of five of Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus” was definitely to his advantage. I was especially impressed with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s considerable prowess as a song interpreter, which is essential in re-creating the sense of a very difficult and often paradoxical poet, and then expressing it in terms of pure lyricism.

I wasn’t as taken with Lieberson’s three Bagatelles (1985), partly because the titles puzzled me. My notion of a “bagatelle” is that of a trifle or an amusing anecdote, something lighter in mood than these somber piano pieces. “Proclamation” bears out its name musically well enough, but “Spontaneous Songs” seems a misnomer for a group of short subjects that strike me as rather hesitant and not terribly lyrical at all, and “Nocturne” might have been a better title for the restlessly probing third movement that Lieberson calls “The Dance.”

I’m more sanguine about Lieberson’s Piano Quintet (2003), an energetic work that further benefits from an outstanding performance by Serkin and the Orion String Quartet (Daniel Phillips and Todd Phillips, violins; Steve Tenenbom, viola; and Timothy Eddy, cello). By this time, Serkin had been performing with the Orions for years, going back to the old days at Marlboro, and its shows in the solid mutual support these musicans give one another. The spirit of Cape Breton folk fiddling permeates the mood and rhtyhms of this music, evoking a place with strong associations for the composer. Part I of the work is in the form of a fantasy based on a four-note motif heard early-on. There is a brief interlude, the theme of which becomes the subject of a finely wrought fugue in Part II which builds to a vigorous climax. We have a recolection of earlier material, including a terse quotation of the four-note motif that we heard at the beginning, and then it all ends suddenly, good night and good luck!

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Ballad Nocturne  

Music of Ann Millikan

Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Grigor Palikarov, conductor

Innova Records

  • Ballad Nocturne (with Emanuele Arciuli, piano)
  • Trilhas de Sombra
  • Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal

Ann Millikan’s music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of several contemporary compositional styles and yet Millikan retains an individual and consistent voice throughout each work on this Innova CD.  Ballad Nocturne, (2009) for piano and chamber orchestra, puts jazz harmonies and figurations through a Druckman-esque prism.  Neither straight-ahead jazz nor purely-abstract instrumental music, this piece encapsulates Millikan’s musical personality: that of a synthesizer.  Disperate elements flow together and mix in seamless compositions.  Around the 8 minute mark of Ballad Nocturne, time simply stops as high strings and a repeated high piano figure float over a slightly-disturbed walking piano bass.  The piece switches gears from pseudo-lounge to Morton Feldman without dislocating the listener’s eardrum.  Instead of ending the piece at this moment, which I fully expected, a more traditional jazz ballade lugubriously emerges and clarifies everything we’ve heard previously with the subdued juxtaposition of earlier elements.

Perhaps jazz transformations aren’t your thing.  No worries there, because the orchestral triptych Trilhas de Sombra, (2009) a programatic work based upon a story written by Millikan’s niece, feeds any needs you have for good ol’ American atonal expressionism.  Except, of course, when Millikan doesn’t need such language to express the ideas in the story.  Gestures and textures tend to abound instead of melodies but the music is still a cohesive unit that moves in a single, unified direction.  The melodies that emerge are long and fluid and showcased with solid and direct orchestrations.  Millikan doesn’t get caught in the trap of being overly clever and instead crafts a wonderfully picturesque and programatic work and like many great programatic orchestral showcases, Trilhas de Sombra doesn’t come across as a movie soundtrack without the visuals.  Unabashedly contemporary in sound, this is an approachable and enjoyable work that does not condescend to the listener.

Millikan has been flexing her synthesis muscles in the previous two works and the final composition, as one would expect, merges elements from the previous two (even though it is the earliest piece on the disc – 2008).  Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal is just as trippy and fun as the title might suggest.  I don’t know how to land “inside the inside” of something, nor do I wholly understand how the spacey, abstract, atonal music of the first half relates to the Afro-Cuban inspired dance rhythms that drive the second half.  I also don’t know how this all ties into the “story of initiation” mentioned in the program notes.  You know what?  I don’t care that I don’t know how this works.  It works. Being a fan of WTF moments in compositions, Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal hits me right where I live.  This piece is a journey but, unlike Trilhas de Sombra, there didn’t seem to be a predetermined path to follow.  It is as if Millikan just struck out to go somewhere and ended up in the most wonderful and fantastic places.

I do have one problem with this disc.  While the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds great on each piece, it really irks me that such purely American music written in the last 2 years had to be outsourced for the recording.  I should think that American orchestras would be falling all over themselves to perform and record Millikan’s output.

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Long Piano (Peace March 11)

Christian Wolff

Thomas Schultz, piano

New World Records

When faced with a work promoting a specific political or ideological slant it can be hard to find the line between art and propaganda.  Christian Wolff’s Long Piano (Peace March 11) definitely falls into the category of a politically-inspired work but the music itself remains austere and carefully detached from its surroundings.  Composed in 2004-2005, this hour long solo piano work is built largely of sparse gestures and thin textures.  The piece is constantly beginning anew and never fully coalesces in any one place for long.  Each fragment has its own internal life and motivations.  Thomas Schultz certainly had his work cut out for him in creating a coherent and linear performance of a work that is almost anything but.  Schultz is displaying a type of virtuosity that goes beyond pounding volumes and rapid arpeggios.

Never still enough to be ambient yet not directed enough to contain a typical emotional through line, Long Piano seems set on an eternal simmer.  It still manages to make you pay attention to it and simply hear its sound.

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Vivian Houle, vocalist Treize

Treize

Drip Audio


  1. Mandrake (with Peggy Lee, cello)
  2. Molehills mumps (with Lisa miller, piano)
  3. Paperthin (with Coat Cooke, saxophone)
  4. Gratte-moi le dos (with Kenton Loewen, drums)
  5. Quiet eyes (with Ron Samworth, guitar)
  6. It’s not the moon (with Chris Gestrin, analog keyboards and live sampling)
  7. Betters and bads (with Jesse Zubot, violin)
  8. Finely tuned is my heart (with Jeremy Berkman, trombone)
  9. Au revas (with Paul Plimley, piano)
  10. A little storm (with Jeff Younger, guitar)
  11. Bells hung in a tree (with Clyde Reed, bass)
  12. Song not for you (with Brent Belke, guitar)
  13. Curve (with Stefan Smulovitz, kenaxis)

The very essence of chamber music is perfectly captured in these thirteen tracks. Viviane Houle’s duets with each of these artists is raw music making – free improvisations that transcend the ordinary and provide sonic experiences unlike anything else.  Houle’s sonic repertoire is no short of astonishing.  Half of the time I can’t tell which sounds she is making and which are being made by her instrumental counterpart.  On the same token, both performers on each track are so adept at listening to each other that the flow of events sounds totally organic and alive.  While the bulk of the tracks are showcases for Houle’s vocal fireworks she is always blending with the ensemble and creating a sonic “hyperinstrument” that is neither one nor the other.

A few of the tracks feature a more traditional melodic and sung role for the voice.  Houle, who also wrote all the texts, trends towards the smokey and hazy sounds of somber jazz or beat poetry.  Her rich sound and warm emotional expressions are further featured on one of my favorite tracks, It’s not the moon. Houle’s voice is the DNA of Chris Gestrin’s synth work creating a haunting, graceful, and eternal sounding track.

The last three tracks on the disc transition smoothly from one to the next, making an excellent journey.  Bells hung in a tree has a subdued ending that sounds like it continues as the next track fades in.  Song not for you hits me right in my Heavy Metal spot.  Houle and Belke sound like a great thrashing metal duo from somewhere in the Oort Cloud who have recently learned to sing using random Japanese phonemes (and I mean that in the best possible way).  The thrash continues while the ambient sizzle of Curve takes over.  Like It’s not the moon, Curve puts Houle’s voice in the background and she inexorably emerges from the synthetic world into an oozing and pulsating mass of delicious aural goo.

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