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If, Bwana - Red One - Reviews

If, Bwana - Red OneThe six tracks on this CD from Al Margolis’ If, Bwana project share an aesthetic that can be described as spooky intimacy at a distance. With the exception of one duo contribution, each piece consists of a contribution by a solo artist that Margolis then recasts in the studio through multi-tracking. The resulting synthesis manages to conserve the original performance while re-forming it into a new work with its own identity.

Toys for Al opens the set with a blast from Margolis’s toy trumpet, which is then set against the droning undertow of Nate Wooley’s amplified trumpet. The harmonies that emerge seem never to resolve, leaving one with a feeling of perpetual suspense. Ellen, Banned takes the solo voice of Ellen Band and transmutes it into the rising and falling polyphony of a ghost choir. Trombonist Monique Buzzarte provides the core of Xylo 2, a spare piece for long tones and silences punctuated with widely-spaced strikes suggestive of a xylophone. The trombone is layered to generate an uncanny facsimile of a simple diatonic, if random, chord progression. The delightfully titled It Is Bassoon, with Leslie Ross, continues in a like manner, its sound consisting of a cloud of chords generating subtle dissonances as bassoon lines multiply and move against each other. Lisa Verabbit breaks up and reassembles Lisa B Kelley’s voice and Veronika Vitazkova’s flute, while the final track, Toys for Nate, closes the album with Margolis alone on toy trumpet, bringing the recording full circle.

With the multi-tracking choices he makes, Margolis throws each artist’s contribution into high relief and brings out the essential qualities present in the original performance. This is studio alchemy at its most sympathetic. - Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News

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. - Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes

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