FRKWYS Vol. 16: In a Word is the latest volume of an intergenerational project. We last visited the project with Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani’s Volume 13, which ended up on our list of the Best Ambient Albums of the Decade. Once again, the pairing is instinctive: the keys of auteur Daniel Lentz with the tape loops and tenor of Ian William Craig. Unlike Craig’s Red Sun Through Smoke, released earlier this year, In a Word (despite its title) concentrates more on voice as texture, akin to Craig’s earlier works and a necessary readjustment that honors Lentz by freeing the listener from lyrics to concentrate on sonics. The release is accompanied by a documentary, currently in post-production (preview below).
While readers of this site are familiar with Craig, they may not have heard Lentz before today. A contemporary of Harold Budd and other visionaries, the pianist has been recording for four decades, concentrating on “incremental changes” via the use of multi-track devices. This makes him a perfect match for Craig, whose obsessive attention to detail has paid off with a signature sound and has only recently brought him outside his solo endeavors to the realm of collaboration. One can hear a deep respect in the interplay. Craig’s voice turns the incremental changes into larger ones; Lentz’ patient minimalism makes gossamer threads of the vocalizations. The unusual cover conveys the sound: two crayon lines, often overlapping, with a lot of space between.
Craig’s word doesn’t appear until the second track, and then briefly; we remember the beauty of Craig’s early tape work, and it’s fascinating to hear how it sounds with a different pianist. In the ten-minute “Joyce,” the signals struggle to break through to the surface. As important as the piano is, Lentz occasionally falls into silence to allow one of Craig’s vowels to transcend, and vice versa. The ending folds back to the beginning before a slight unravelling, caught in the nick of time.
Lentz’ pointillism provides an exquisite framework for Craig’s static-charged loops: like milkweed thistle whose flight is momentarily caught in branches. The wonder of the collaboration is that it still feels introverted and sparse. Together, Lentz and Craig seem like old friends who can sit in a room, saying barely a word while feeling a deep, resonant safety.
In a Word: sublime. (Richard Allen)