Al Margolis started If, Bwana decades ago, when the cassette was a suitable medium for an idiosyncratic research. Even now that the latter is spelled out by talented musicians and released in technically improved media, it’s good to see that an element of slight weirdness – in turn defining a typical feel of unsettlement – still lies at the basis of that craft. The five tracks comprised by this CD represent a partial summary of Margolis’ versatility, and a valid illustration of the creative currents pushing his “mutant music” forward, usually via processes of deconstruction and re-assemblage of specific materials.
A remarkable aspect is the ambiguous nature of the selections in which Lisa Barnard Kelley is the obvious protagonist, her tone – natural or modified – embodying chapters such as “DTTO Lisa” and “Death To The 8 Notes” with a mix of anxiety and sarcasm which renders the pieces akin to certain avant-garde of the sixties, minus the museum’s dust smell. It almost seems that If, Bwana is mocking some of that era’s conventions, though one’s not really able to perceive intentionality. What transpires as a certainty is the usual predilection for the lower frequencies, and the mastery in gathering organically droning structures complemented by a clearly detectable improvisational factor. My favourite in that sense is “Cicada #1”, which juxtaposes Barnard Kelley’s pitches with Monique Buzzarté’s trombone, Tom Hamilton’s Nord Modular synth, Jacqueline Martelle’s flute and the principal’s computer to achieve a totality whose biotic jaggedness is pure pleasure for the ears.
Another terrific affair is the initial “Ringing The Bell” – performed by Trio Scordatura – which adds Alfrun Schmid near-cadaveric voiced emissions to a marvellous meltdown of viola (Elisabeth Smalt) and keyboards (Bob Gilmore). An essential discordance characterizing a crepuscular commentary for the decadence of classic counterpoint, just an alternative way for this restlessly impassive gentleman to emphasize a highly individual style.