AMN Reviews: Earth Tongues – Atem (2019; Neither / Nor Records)

On Atem, experimentalists Joe Moffett on trumpet, Dan Peck on tuba, and Carlo Costa on percussion come together for a 33-minute free improvisation that stretches the definitions of what we might categorize as music. The emphasis here is on texture, layers, and density, rather than melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic progression. The piece was developed and recorded during a 2017 residency at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works.

Costa’s vocabulary goes well beyond the drum kit, incorporating what sounds like bells, bowls, rattles, as well as found objects. He rarely plays clear notes and instead rubs, scrapes, and scratches these items. Vague patterns of subtle beats emerge from time to time, but are not the emphasis. Moffett and Peck make use of extended techniques to breath odd forms of life into their horns, offering warbling and squeaks along with a few long-held notes that approach a semblance of a drone.

In combination, Earth Tongues produces a shifting, rough-edged soundscape flush with details and character. Their use of space is intriguing – they fill it, but do so with quiet and distorted passages that never quite leap out at you.  Instead, Atem consists of a rich set of structures that slowly evolve throughout the course of the piece. Well done.