Recorded in Buenos Aires in the first half of this year, Ritual is the second collaboration between pianist/percussionist Ana Foutel and multi-instrumentalist Edgardo Palotta. That the recording was made live with both musicians present wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances be remarkable, but during the time of COVID it represents an almost defiant assertion of the durability of human connections.
That connection is amply demonstrated by the sure-footed acoustic music the two recorded. Foutel and Palotta explore a spectrum of improvisational possibilities ranging from melodic duets to confrontations of abstract sounds. The very first track, for example, introduces the set with Palotta’s stentorian but ultimately mellifluous reedwork, which robustly overlays Foutel’s elegant pianism. By contrast, a track like Acá no nieva moves smoothly from pitch-based to unpitched sounds, with Palotta’s Indian flute providing the pivot. In addition to Indian flute, Palotta plays bass clarinet, clarinet, and pizzicato double bass. On the three tracks featuring the latter instrument, Palotta sets out slowly varying, repeated figures that Foutel picks up on piano and transforms through variations of her own.
When so inclined, even the smallest of ensembles—duos and trios—can put forward music of a surprising timbral complexity. Two recordings of improvised music from Europe and Argentina capture a trio and duo that are indeed so inclined.
The trio of Bruno Gussoni, Marcello Magliocchi and Adrian Northover has the unusual instrumentation of flutes, drums and soprano saxophone (played by Gussoni, Magliocchi and Northover, respectively). The standard flute and soprano sax share a substantial overlap in range, but differ markedly in timbre: one is hollow and airy in the low register and bright in the high register, while the other is penetrating and nasal in the upper register and reedy and dense in the lower register. In combination, they can create startling contrasts of color, as they do here. Whether played together in blocks of sound or as flurries of notes strung together in intertwining lines, the two instruments open up a sometimes very subtle space of difference between them. In their unaccompanied Duo #1, these differences are emphasized through extended techniques such as air notes and key clicks; elsewhere dynamic contrasts come into play, as in the opening piece for trio and in Trio #3’s upper register passages and held tones. Given the frequently delicate balance of sounds surrounding him, Magliocchi responds with sensitivity and open textures, never crowding out the winds. His skill as a colorist is evident throughout, but especially on Duo #2 for drums and soprano sax, and Duo #3 for drums and flute.
Foutel + Palotta are Argentinian—pianist Ana Foutel is from Buenos Aires, where Mandarina was recorded, while multi-instrumentalist Edgardo Palotta is from Quilmes. Their six duets are notable for their timbral adventurousness thanks largely to Foutel’s exquisite extended techniques and Palotta’s eclectic battery of wind, string and percussion instruments. On Noctilucas, a dark, ponderously paced piece, for instance, Foutel transforms the piano into a reasonable facsimile of a mallet percussion instrument; on Sándalo she plays directly on the strings with metal objects to give the piano a brittle, harpsichord-like sound. Palotta’s own contributions are always apt, whether underscoring the music with pizzicato double bass as he does on Ocre and Evening, spinning out evocative motifs on clarinet on Noctilucas, or bringing in the sounds of the South American Indian flute on Nos salvaron los peces.