Dishearteningly, there is so much sterile improvised music these days. Any sense of ambiance is relegated to the margins, while the instruments, no matter how well-played and the ideas well-executed, become somehow environmentally impersonal. Not so with David Peck's Fulcrum, a solo effort that sounds like anything but while retaining an important sense of atmosphere and perspective.
The single hour and 20-minute piece is called "Leverage," and its narrative is as complex as the title is ambiguous. Instruments float past in a slow liquid procession of unfolding. It is difficult to cite them all, but bass clarinet, saxophone, what sounds like an English horn and bassoon are among them, as are various percussion instruments, including a wonderfully resonant gong. Peck has washed his vocabulary on each instrument clean of reference, so that the bass clarinet, just to cite an example, is about as far away from Eric Dolphy's classicalist or pointillist tendencies as can be desired.
Peck's approach is both melodic and not, just skirting any genre associations in favor of an approach at times nearly peaceful and at others whimsically raucous. Is that an accordion or melodica rendering those wild choppy harmonies? None of the instruments presents the entire narrative, as beneath it all, or perhaps better to say around and through it all, we are treated to continually sifting layers of processed sound. It is as if everything happening centerstage is in need of commentary from the chorus, and to penetrate to the heart of its gyrating jibber and babble is somehow to understand the music as a totality. As the long piece progresses, elements from the chorus emerge with stunning but understated clarity; carved bells and nearly percussive thrumming may be related to timbres in the foreground at any given moment, but then again, they may not, and the fun is found in their relationships. Any conventional musical elements can, at any moment can be centerstage or swallowed up by the continuous activity to either side of the stereo spectrum.
The best part, though, is that the process of making music is integral to the final product. Delicious nob-turning and button-pushing pervades, as if this wonderful creative process occurred at the moment of hearing. The process, the room, the homemade atmosphere of the whole, gives the music a live feel that is satisfying and disarming. This is improvised music for the intrepid, justifying both its own existence and Peck's label's name.
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