Alder & Ash ~ Clutched in the Maw of the World

Clutched in the Maw of the World confirms everything that we proclaimed last year about the talents of Alder & Ash (Adrian Copeland).  Copeland has the skill and ambition to rival his contemporaries, and to do for the cello what Colin Stetson has done for the saxophone: to break the boundaries of expectation laid down by years of predictability.

While Clutched in the Maw of the World is comprised entirely of cello, it would be a disservice to call it a “cello album.”  Such a tag conjures associations with the staid and traditional: the old guard, performing old favorites, or even worse, their new age counterparts.  Alder & Ash is the opposite.  There is sweetness here, yes, even more so than on the confrontational Psalms for the Sunder.  But there’s also sadness, and anger, and wrenching pain.  In a single track, Copeland can veer from contemplative to cacophonic, striking his instrument, searing his strings.  There’s as much metal here as modern composition.  And yet, Copeland avoids the excesses.  No song is so saccharine as to invite sleep, nor so abrasive as to grate.  The artist has a larger story to tell, which requires intense focus.

The story is ancient, but Copeland makes it new.  The arc can be gleaned from the titles: from “The Merciless Dusk” to “The Merciful Dawn”, from the dark maw to “The Glisten, The Glow”.  The unnamed protagonist wrestles with God and faith, with ambition and failure.  The earth lies silent, selfishly clutching its seeds and forbidding them to grow.  Yet something grows in the suffering, in the wrestling, through the dirt of pain or perhaps because of it: a grudging resolution, an inner determination, a sprouting resolve.  After all the loud railing against the sky, an awful sullenness stews and seethes, reminiscent of Job in the desert.  And then ~ although the listener cannot hear it ~ a voice.  The anger descends into the debris.  Throat parched, the protagonist is forced to listen.

The dust is wiped from the clothes.  The bow is lifted once more.  Now instead of a complaint comes a lament.  Did it have to be this hard?  The question hangs in the air, unanswered.  When waiting for an answer, there’s little consolation in having the final word.  But there’s great strength in incorporating imbalance.  As Alder & Ash cloaks dissonance in consonance, he cushions its pain.  (Richard Allen)

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