Tuesday, November 08, 2016

CD Review: Barry Guy - The Blue Shroud & Guy/Crispell/Lytton - Deep Memory

Barry Guy
The Blue Shroud

Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton
Deep Memory

Bassist Barry Guy's two new albums for Intakt both take inspiration from works of art. In the case of the first one, it also incorporates the way a work of art can be presented and the resulting way in which the work is interpreted, with possible political motives coming out in the process. Vastly different in structure and instrumentation, both mine the visual medium to create strong, enduring works. 

When Colin Powell went on t.v. from the United Nations to present a case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he stood near a reproduction of Pablo Picasso's Guernica. The painting was inspired by the 1937 bombing of that city, and due to the nature of it, Picasso's work was draped in a blue shroud prior to Powell's talk. Presumably the images of war were too much for the public to see as a declaration of a new war was being made.

When writing The Blue Shroud, a 71-minute piece presented in 11 sections on disc, Guy was inspired by all of the acts - the bombing itself, Guernica and the act of shrouding it before Powell's speech. To bring it to life he assembled a 14-piece band, including a vocalist, strings, reeds, low and high brass and two drummers. Along with his original score, he incorporates pieces by classical composers H.I.F. Biber and J.S. Bach.

The work gets wild and there are moments of full blown chaos, but those are fleeting sections amidst bigger pieces. Ben Dwyer's guitar evokes flamenco as he strums furiously over a droning, bowed bass. Saxophones pop furiously, leading to vocals, quickly followed by piano clatter and low chattering strings. The overall feeling is minor, although hope feels like it could be on the horizon. This is especially true when the ensemble plays the Biber's pieces (which refer to Stations of the Cross) and Bach's "Agnus Dei."

Irish poet Kerry Hardie composed "Symbols of Guernica" which vocalist Savina Yannatou recites in sections throughout the piece. The use of voice and intense imagery never makes the work polemic or bombastic. Rather it elevates the feeling of the work. Since the liner notes, like all Intakt releases, appear in both German and English, it was hard to tell at first if Yannatou's recitation was in English or not, since it, wisely, was not pushed to far forward in the mix. This added to the overall impact of The Blue Shroud, making this element just one piece of a stronger whole.

The seven tracks on Deep Memory all derive titles from works by British painter Hughie O'Donoghue, from a 2007 Berlin exhibition titled Lost Poems. Though Guy didn't attempt to transform each canvas into music there can be parallels drawn between the vast, sometimes dark, swaths of color and Guy's performance with longtime collaborators Marilyn Crispell (piano) and Paul Lytton (percussion).

More than anything else, this collection reveals that wide array of moods this trio can create. After the opening "Spirit" - a tranquil rubato piece that unfolds slowly with gentle piano and a plucked bass solo - the group explodes, quite literally, in the opening seconds of "Fallen Angel," with furious bowing and crashes on the keys. The mood of the track also turns calm, but builds up to a climax a few more times, sustaining energy all along.

"Return of Ulysses" proves why Crispell is so highly regarded as a post-Cecil Taylor proponent of energy and technique. She unleashes blocks of sound over some furious bass scrapes that might have put the future of Guy's bow in jeopardy. "Dark Days" begins with her firing repeatedly on one note before taking off across the whole keyboard.

Yet for all of the wildness, Crispell draws on her deeply meditative side as well, which is felt in "Silenced Music" as well as the aforementioned opening track. Lytton colors the music perfectly, whether he's sitting back or adding some hard rolls to the stop-start theme of "Sleeper." And Guy, who composed everything, sounds great, especially in his "Spirit" solo which made my car's speakers vibrate wonderfully during a recent listen. Which proves that the best way to listen is by sitting right in front of two strong speakers.

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