Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ellen Burr - Duos

This is one of those disks that have sat waiting for my focus - sorry to Ellen and pfMentum for the delay. Anyway, Duos is Ellen Burr's first solo album (pfMentum 034) though she has played on a number of other albums - her instrument is the flute. And while the album title gives you a fair indication of its structure, the opening and closing pieces (comprising a quarter of the album) are solo tracks: Ball of yarn and Warp & weave. These are opportunities for her to demonstrate the range of her flutism, with blowy sections, some vocalisation, cycling, a soft almost processed sound to the middle of Ball of yarn and some percussion (hand tapping the table?). It is more relaxed while Warp & weave moves from held notes and mumbled chanting into disturbed and exciting playing - sliding between the two moods (as per the title), and includes some oral clicking and what sounds like plucking the keys of the flute. These could also be duos - I can't be sure but there may be some multitracking which would be Burr dueting with herself (but I have just received advice that there is no overdubbing - it is recorded live: emphasising the complexity that can be extracted from the instrument by a skilled flautist).

However, the other three quarters of the album is true duets. Burr wrote the pieces, or provided the graphic scores (some of which are included in the booklet). There are two works with Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon: Canon-cards-canon I and II where an almost classical weaving of the instruments in the first canon is broken by twisting, pulsing of the card section (the graphic score) before the final part which has long tones and a mournful sound. In the second one a big start, fluttering and smooth components alternate (the canon) then opens out into fast and slow passages. A forceful central section leads to a sweeter melodic final part that ends with breathing. The tones of the basson and flute complement each other nicely.

In Permutations '62 Burr's flute and Andrew Pesk's clarinet play lovely uncomplicated interlocking melodies, each instrument going on little frolics of their own, but with a wonderful classic simplicity. Similarly, Steuart Liebig on prepared bass offers strong collaboration on Senbazuru by initially supporting the flute with resonant deep tones and picked notes before the the piece picks up to a slightly Eastern sounding melody (which is hauntingly familiar) that is taken through variations, the track ending with it building in pace to a rapid climax.

At the centre of the album is a 16 minute track Four square with percussioinst Jeanette Kangas that uses a score based around sections, so that there is a variety through it in playing and styles that maintains a fluidity to the piece - the last quarter sees the flute keeing, soft percussion that flows to a gentle end.

The structure of the album provides its strength - rather than a full solo work, which could be daunting to all but the dedicated flutophile, the range has been extended through the pairings to give balance within the tracks and variety across the album (structural the album is well made too with a very pleasing symmetry). Full of quality performances this is not an album that seduces you immediately (hence the late review) but which offers complexity that unfolds and appeals as familiarity grows. A stimulating release.

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