Argentinian composer Ulises Conti has been extremely active over the last decade, working in theatre, dance and film. For fans, Atlas (2003-2013) is a wonderful compendium of his work to date; for newcomers, it’s a worthy introduction. Japan’s Flau label may not have discovered Conti, but it will certainly bring his work to an expanded audience. Those who like what they hear are directed to the artist’s website, which hides links to other works, each symbolized by an illustrated head: giraffe, bunny, seahorse.
The collection is loosely sequenced by timbre rather than by time, with the piano pieces followed by lap steel compositions and concluding with viola works. The less active french horn provides some of the album’s finest moments, beginning with the very first notes. “Cañones ocultos entre las flores” (“Canyons hidden among the flowers”) is a reversal of expectations that sets the stage for the remainder of the set. When the instrument returns five tracks later, it’s like a welcome friend.
In “Extrañas luces caen del cielo” (“Strange lights falling from the sky”), the foreground is awash in mournful strings, while the background swirls with ambient washes and tastefully odd percussion. The track reflects its title: disorienting, yet mesmerizing. “Adivinación en lagos” (“Divination in lakes”) continues to delve into experimentalism, as a light dissonant hue contributes a welcome edge. But the album’s clear highlight is its widescreen, orchestral closer, “Distancias olvidadas” (“Distances forgotten”), which sounds as fresh now as it must have sounded in 2007. In this piece, all of the elements work together, united for a common cause; and the final minute is the album’s best. While listening, the distances of a decade are forgotten as well. Contemporary and contemplative, Atlas is a timely celebration of an artist in his prime. (Richard Allen)