Three albums in three weeks from Denovali, a very active November! The new slate includes piano-based albums from Poppy Ackroyd and Carlos Cipa, and a split work from Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones + Witxes, each reworking the other’s music.
Pianist/violinist Poppy Ackroyd is as ebullient as her name implies. Following on the success of her recent audio-visual collaboration with Lumen, the artist now introduces new, even richer material, enhanced by cello, harmonium, spinet and other instruments, the latter of which she discovered while exploring a keyboard museum in Edinburgh. One can imagine her joy at being allowed to experiment with the antique harpsichords and clavichords. The expanded palette serves her well, as the album is rich in timbre and hue. Light field recordings continue to be a hallmark of her recordings, but her primary association is with mood; Feathers is upbeat and hopeful, the musical expression of the Emily Dickinson quote on which it is based. Nary a twinge of melancholy is found, making Ackroyd either a foil for the withdrawn Dickinson or an expression of her own sublimated desires. Ackroyd’s music also echoes the less quoted second line of Dickinson’s poem: And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all -. As Dickinson constructed her poems – and her hope – word by word, with pauses inserted, so does Ackroyd construct her songs. Each pause is a breath before the next note, designed to keep one’s wings beating against the wind.
Munich’s Carlos Cipa has much in common with Poppy Ackroyd. Like Acroyd, Cipa augments his piano with strings, and often taps the innards of his preferred instrument; and like Ackroyd, he’s fascinated with period instruments. The difference is that Cipa’s choices come from the 20th century rather than the 16th-19th centuries. These include a Guitaret, a glockenspiel, and a radio receiver once owned by his grandparents. Cipa can also be electronically-minded, as demonstrated in the “Fragments” that separate the longer pieces; and a grey nature is detectable as early as the titles, which include “Secret Longing”, “Today And It’s Gone” and “Nowhere to Be Found”. The resolution is similar, in that each album finds a reason to go on; but Cipa’s clouds take a lot longer to clear. Ackroyd’s album is filled with encouragement and Cipa’s with empathy. Neither facet is better than the other. A life needs sun and rain, suffering and celebration, in order to appreciate its bittersweet contrast, akin to the harmonic relationship between black and white keys.
The first second of Witxes‘ “Pisces Analogue” reminds me of the first second of the movie “The Relic”, as each begins with a loud, jolting note. The note is especially surprising in Witxes’ work, as it is absent from the original (“Nourrain Quinquet”): a slow, languid, horn-filled piece with low, sleepy vocals. But this is the entire purpose behind the project: to reimagine, rather than to remix. Witxes excises the vocals and smears the sounds like a lugubrious paste. The new work is two and a half times longer, a study in segments separated by sudden repetitions and permutations of the scary chord. The final eight minutes are the most effective, rising from complete silence to thick electronics, a beat finally emerging at 18:19. Conversely, Dale Cooper Quartet & the Dictaphones tackles Witxes’ “The Apparel” and makes it their own, vastly extending the piece from six minutes to twenty, amplifying the horns while de-emphasizing the electronics, turning it from a slow, droning, Bohren-esque survey to an even darker jazz piece. The bass chords of the ninth minute mark the transition from Witxes to Cooper; the shift is cemented when Roman Mac Erlaine’s vocals enter in the fourteenth. “You can’t breathe at all,” he sings. One can sense the claustrophobia, as the room has been slowly drained of sound. In the end, only light percussion remains. (Richard Allen)