Saturday, March 29, 2014

LP Review: Doug Wieselman- From Water

Doug Wieselman
From Water
(88 Records)

From Water combines a few of my favorite things: a vinyl-only release, a solo instrument album and music inspired by flowing bodies of water. Any album that's released exclusively on vinyl (or at least on vinyl with a download card) should at least be acknowledged since it's still a bold move. When an improvising musician releases a solo recital (with the exception of the piano since the harmonic possibilities are greater), it usually presents an interesting study of the performer's mindset. As far as the last, personal criteria, I've always found that sitting near a fountain or a flowing creek to be a very calming experience.

Doug Wieselman's set of solo clarinet pieces is not in the same league as something like Anthony Braxton's For Alto. This is not a series of extended technique performances, but in fact tunes inspired by distant trains, water and traveled roads. The music is melodically stark, closer to Brian Eno's ambient music than to Wieselman's Downtown New York/improv/jazz surroundings. Yet the repetitive nature of "Pacific 2" and "Train" brought back memories of his "Montana Section," from the 1990s album by the New York Composers Orchestra, where a two-bar melody was echoed and embellished by reeds and brass, evoking the wind blowing through the Montana trees.

To create a similar approach on For Water, Wieselman used an '80s loop pedal run through a Fender Vibrolus amp. After playing a clarinet line that provides structure to the music, it repeats independently, allowing him to play countermelodies on top of it. "Train" really does evoke its title, chugging down the tracks that are around the corner and through the woods. This rather lo-fi process gives the music life, although the loops maintains a rich sound rather than sounding like a badly miked clarinet.

The music moves slowly and can be unnerving to anyone who wants to hear something with more momentum. While most of it sounds repetitive, Weiselman's faithful reading of John Lennon's "Julia" takes an already simple song and slows it down even further, lasting for what seems like an eternity. But From Water asks that expectations of the whole set are put aside. "Julia" appears halfway into side two, and if you've made it this far, it's easy to let it wash over you. Wisely, he follows that piece with the sole break in the set. "Tennessee Valley," which appeared on side one, is performed by an 11-voice choir. Bathed in warn, natural echo, the piece really succeeds in part because the group blends together like one or two strong voices.

The album might be a fairly specialized performance, but it's an engaging one nonetheless. We can all use something like this to keep the mind relaxed.

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