Al Margolis: toy trumpet; Nate Wooley: trumpet, toy trumpet; Ellen Band: voice; Monique Buzzarté: trombone; Leslie Ross: bassoon; Lisa B. Kelley: voice; Veronika Vitazkova: flute
The deceivingly “uncultured” facets of If, Bwana’s compositions veil instead various layers of straightforward refinement and a considerable number of ideas that would make many currently unfertile “names” cheerful. Red One – defined by the press release as “intimate” in contrast to the preceding E (And Sometimes Why) on this very label – features Al Margolis’ customary impregnable consistency, only wearing simpler clothes. The record includes in fact scores for a maximum of two sources, smart multi-tracking and knowledgeable processing expanding the music’s girth to bring results that range from “attractive testing” from “unsettling luminosity”.
To the latter category belong, without any doubt, “Ellen, Banned” and “It Is Bassoon”. The first comprises a fabricated wavering choir of superimposed vocals by composer Ellen Band, glissando clusters and elliptic pitch-shifting the critical ingredients for a veritable trip across a rewarding variety of harmonic plasticity. The second – my overall favorite episode – is founded on related principles, employing Leslie Ross’ bassoon for continuous regenerations of droning substances in “mutating minimalism” sauce. Try and envision a cross of David Behrman and Yoshi Wada to get a (vague) idea of how this stunning piece gurgles through the auricular conduits.
Different events typify “Xylo 2” – a relatively soothing juxtaposition of well-chosen tones coming from Monique Buzzarté’s trombone interspersed with sparse metallic touches – and “Lisa Verabbit”, a semi-immaterial dialogue between voice and flute (Lisa Barnard Kelley and Veronika Vitazkova) sounding nearer to selected pages of the book of early avant-garde. Neither critically blasphemous nor sadly lame, each of the above selections might be depicted as Phill Niblock once made with his own work: “it is what it is”. Take it or leave it, and we definitely took them: these tracks indubitably grow with subsequent spins.
Both the closing and the opening of the album are characterized by the use of toy trumpets. While in “Toys For Nate” Margolis plays all alone, primarily looking for the sort of membrane-tingling upper partial conflict that seems to be the chief raison d’être of a sizeable chunk of his output, “Toys For Al” sounds a little deeper thanks to the bedrock of thicker frequencies generated by Nate Wooley’s prepared trumpet, resulting in extensions of the contrapuntal perspective rendered with tactful sensitiveness.
As always, if you’re into bells and whistles look somewhere else. If, Bwana’s modest seriousness keeps manifesting itself via releases that urge people to stop and listen conscientiously, concluding that the by-now routine statement according to which “less is more” is still applicable after all.