Friday, June 5, 2020
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Artist: Christine Abdelnour / Magda Mayas
Title: The Setting Sun Is Beautiful Because Of All It Makes Us Lose
Format: CD + Download
Label: Sofa
This album is one 35-minute piece, recorded at the duo’s concert at Ultima Festival in Oslo in 2018. Not content with the long title of the album, the piece itself is called “Thousand and One” and it finds Abdelnour and Mayas experimenting and improvising with acoustic instruments, in a manner of playing that makes the base instrument sometimes unrecognisable. Breathy clarinet and saxophone-like parps, harp-like strings that are variously caressed and strained, soft percussive hits across a variety of surfaces, and treated and often harsh piano plinking are casually tossed together into an out-there assembly of avantgarde jazz. As instruments are switched in and out, we are given different phases, like chapters, that keeps things moving.

It’s full of measured energy, sometimes feeling like a polite sonic argument, two performers responding to each other’s expressions but with an excitability that leaves them often overlapping, but moments of real synergy, or even tonal simultaneity, are quite rare. When they do occur, it’s in the space between flurries, rather than the flurries themselves, that the performance really seems to be in accord.

As a live performance it’s well-recorded, though compared to the standard of other live recordings I’ve heard which have sounded studio-quality, there is just a touch of brightness lacking, an edge of hollowness which makes some of the sounds feel a touch muted or undetailed- but this is very minor and you would still be hard pushed to know it was a live recording if not already told.

It would certainly have been an impressive performance to see at the festival, but unfortunately there’s something about this recording that doesn’t really sparkle. It feels like a workday piece of experimentation, rather than true inspiration, and while it rolls along nicely and produces some interesting textures, for me I’m afraid it doesn’t charm or amaze.