Saturday, September 19, 2020
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Artist: Ellen Burr (@)
Title: Duos
Format: CD
Label: pfMENTUM (@)
Rated: *****
Duos is my first exposure to Ellen Burr, an accomplished musician who has studied with such luminaries as John Cage and Morton Subotnick. Seven unique pieces comprise this charmingly peculiar release by the California-based flutist/artist/author. The first and final tracks on Duos are solos performed by Burr on C flute, with the middle five being collaborative efforts from which the album’s name ostensibly derives. Among these twosomes, the listener is treated to a series of interesting experiments, based on improvisation within the structure of graphic scores composed by Burr. Several of these scores appear in the liner notes, along with explanations of how they were interpreted by the artists.The fun commences with the playfully frenetic "Ball of Yarn," a lively bit of exploration on C flute that masterfully brings its subject into the mind’s eye. One can easily envision a ball of yarn unraveling, perhaps while being chased around the house and batted here-and-there by a mischievous kitten. "Canon-Cards-Canon I" (track 2) features Burr (alto flute) and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck creating a collective landscape of sound based on an intriguing technique devised by Burr. Each player has chosen three cards from a deck of sixty line gestures, with the aim being to interpret melodic and dynamic shapes based on the direction and density of the lines. Meandering along, this track is tentative, yet pleasing. Burr is joined on "Permutations 62" by clarinetist Andrew Pask. The score for this track centers around a painting by Mary Martin in which each of seven black and white cells have been transposed into a note with pitch and duration, with the graphic permutations within the picture being used to create the flute and clarinet lines. The result is an upbeat frolic, with stray notes, runs, and trills tumbling haphazardly from both instruments."Four Square" pairs Burr (C flute) with percussionist Jeanette Kangas in a sixteen minute exploration of rhythm and sound. The tune was created through the selection and arrangement of stylistic "character cards" upon a board, with the players crafting their sonic output by following arrows within the four squares on one side of the board, then turning the board and interpreting the next set of cards. Though disjointed and sparse at times, this piece kept me wondering what was around the next bend on the board.Next is "Senbazaru," a slow-moving dance between Burr’s alto flute and the prepared bass of Steuart Liebig, with whom Burr has collaborated in the past. There are some really beautiful passages in this song, where the flute really comes to life, forging a melodic path amid the gentle meadow of subdued bass tones."Canon-Cards-Canon II" marks the return of Sara Schoenbeck, as her bassoon takes on a whole new life in a conspicuously more hectic movement than in Canon I. The finale, "Warp & Weave," is another Burr solo, featuring her attention-grabbing technique of alternately playing and "singing," through the flute. Periods of quiet are punctuated by quick, staccato bursts of sound and notes, and some amazing runs hide in the middle of the piece, as the album skips and jumps toward its conclusion.


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