New Circle Five - Dreaming Wide Awake;|
Deep Listening Band/Joe McPhee Quartet - Unquenchable Fire (Deep Listening)
The coupling of improvised music and spoken word is always a risky proposition. Musicians are forced to respond, or not respond, to something with literal meaning. Sentiments, to a degree, are dictated by the text and even well done such records by their nature might rarely make heavy rotation. Two recent recordings by new music stalwart Pauline Oliveros tread upon that hit-or-miss territory, landing squarely on opposite ends of the field.
Dreaming Wide Awake is a beautiful meeting of sound and text. Kristin Norderval speaks and sings her words to a delicate backing of Oliveros’ accordion, Rosi Hertlein’s violin, Monique Buzzarte’s trombone and Susie Ibarra’s percussion. The music is evocative, tastefully dramatic, Ibarra especially fitting in where she could have drowned out. The musicians seem to find spontaneous duets within the mix, sometimes playing lines so simple and sustained that it is difficult to pin down who’s doing what. In some passages, Norderval intones without words, falling in between the violin and accordion as an equal part of the band.
Oliveros teamed up with another upstate New York sonic pioneer, Joe McPhee, for a project that assumedly seemed like a good idea at the time. Each brought some players along: Oliveros’ Deep Listening Band includes Stuart Dempster (trombone and didjeridu) and David Gamper (keyboards and electronics); McPhee’s quartet is made up of Joe Giardullo (saxophones), Monica Wilson (cello) and Karen Jurgens (drums). Writer Rachel Pollack was enlisted to bridge the gap. Pollack’s thin, reedy voice doesn’t do much for the work but the spoken texts serve to bring it down. The insipid fables of urban utopia and magical happenstance are mildly entertaining at best on first listen, but their presence nearly guarantees that they won’t be called upon to hold up to a second playing.
Which in a nutshell is that spoken word risk. Another listener might be charmed by Pollack’s tales of truth-telling horses and subways to paradise. Where instrumental music can more or less portray whatever the listener wants it to, words have to be bought in to. The Lord of the Rings just isn’t the same kind of thing as a Chopin prelude. David Byrne, himself a talking head, once said that words are a trick to make people listen to music longer. The trick, however, can backfire, in more than one way.
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