The recorded output of Mike Fazio (orchestramaxfieldparrish) has often been called “difficult music”, but Élégie is surprisingly accessible – at least when compared to A Guide for Reason I-VI, the first volume of the Music from a Strange Box series. The reason is fairly obvious: Élégie is primarily an album of electric guitar, holding court with poetry, opera and piano. It seems like a logical progression from “One of These Is True. This Is True”, the closing selection on A Guide for Reason VII-VIII. The big difference: this time there’s a hook.
The poetry of Matthew Arnold is a unique entry point for a long ambient guitar piece; on the opening track, his words are read with differing inflections over a bed of crackle and rust: “Come to me in my dreams, and then by day I shall be well again”, counter-balanced by the longings of a woman who wants to dwell with him forever. There’s only so many times one can hear this exchange, haunted by rustlings, backward masking and church bells, before it starts to get a little creepy: a mutual obsession that may not end well. The word “forever” begins to sound vampiric, at the very least a more intellectual counterpart to “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (“Do you love me? Will you love me forever?”). As the male voice grows more frantic, pleading sets in. At what point does romance turn a bitter corner? Where is the line between a desirable flirtation and an unwanted approach? The dark timbres and inflections cause the listener to speculate, and perhaps even to fear.
After such a start, the opening piano notes of the second track come as a relief: there’s enough room between the blinds for a little light to shine. While the ear is drawn more to the guitar, the ivories add a softening touch: at times morose, but at times playful, especially at the center, in which it is allowed to dance alone. This piece was initially intended to appear on a different release, but it fits in well here, like a referee holding back two opponents between the bells. In the other corner paces the tenor Caruso, whose vocals were recorded a century ago but still seem sublime.
The effect of hearing antique sources in modern settings is pleasingly disorienting; whether intentional or not, Fazio seems to be questioning the idea of timelessness. Removed from their original contexts, why does one conceit continue to come across as authentic while the other inspires pause? Is more accurate emotion found in words or intonation? Few answers are available on Élégie; the smiling man on the cover seems to know the secret, but he’s not sharing. Perhaps it’s better not to know the answers; this way, the questions retain their intrigue. (Richard Allen)
Available here (includes a sound page)