Richmond Avant Improv Collective ~ Lamentations

We love when labels put a little extra love into their releases.  Arachnidiscs offers Lamentations as a boxed set of “sound, vision and text,” including a set of photo cards and a series of short writings.  Then there is the CD, an often bizarre but intriguing take on the American South that trods back alleys and unlit fields.  One might call this an American Gothic release, bleeding hints of voodoo magic, folk tales and campfire conjurings.  It’s as far from country & western as one might imagine, although it stops short of horror or self-parody.  While listening, one has the feeling that one has stumbled upon a ritual that one should not have seen.  And yet ~ for now at least ~ one is safely hidden in the brush, undiscovered, nervous yet unable to turn away.

This nine-piece form of the Richmond Avant Improv Collective boasts a wide array of instrumentation, from flute and sax to violin and cello to (of course) banjo.  There’s a lot of rustling in these woods ~ tambourine and other instruments that imitate the tail of a rattler.  Occasionally, someone sings or incants.  Titles such as “Baptism,” “Crossing the River” and “Old Time Religion” comfort, while “Possession of the Spirit” and “Casting Out of Spirits” disconcert.

The tinted images of abandoned Virginia buildings add to the feeling of hauntedness, while the prose veers in unexpected directions.  Each author was given an image and a track, and invited to write an impression.  Samuel Goff writes of snake handling and desperation; Dylan Fischer of an exorcism; Zach Wilson of a dead father.  Steven Sherrill’s “Crossing the River” is a highlight due to the beauty of inversion: There is no shack.  And inside it, no burlap bag of bones.  Others contribute poetry.  All express a form of unfulfilled need or loss.  This is not a happy South.

Through it all, the collective clatters and chatters, rattles and hums.  Ritualistic drums and chanting are met by improvised sax and strident strings.  Is this a conjuring or a worship service?  It’s hard to tell.  The performers seem to go into some sort of trance, implying possession either by spirits or the Spirit, dark or holy.  Whatever muse it may be, it’s awful powerful, like forbidden moonshine.  These houses may be abandoned, but they are far from silent.  (Richard Allen)

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