If, Bwana: Red One [Pogus 21068-2]
The 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.