CD Reviews

Tuesday 15th November

November 16, 2011

Tonight’s CD is another in the growing list of discs that have been put together from worldwide contributions from musicians that may well have never met before. This one is credited to a group named The Limbo Ensemble, who are nine musicians, mostly playing acoustic instrumentation, with the Portugese flautist/clarinetist/electronics and field recordist Paulo Chagas at their helm. For this album, which is named Plebiscitu, Chagas solicited solo improvised recordings from Karl Waugh, (violin) Quincas Moreira, (cello) Bruno DuPlant,  (double bass and percussion) Massimo Magee, (trumpet) Thomas Olsson, (electric guitar) Paulo Duarte, (electric guitar) Fernando Simoes (trombone an objects) and Travis Johnson (cello). He then took the separate recordings and cut parts front hem, arranging them together and then adding his own parts to them to create something final from the whole process. Some of these musicians here are familiar to me, some are not, but a few of them have cropped up from time to time on CDs of this kind before.

Now the CD comes with liner notes by a music critic and essayist named Rui Eduardo Paes, who tries to explore the question of whether this music can still be called improvised, before coming to the obvious conclusion “Well Yes and No” and that the question doesn’t matter anyway. As Chagas only uses three or four musicians on each track (plus always himself) he has been very selective over the material included on each of the eight pieces here. It apparently took him several months to put it all together, and all of these factors lead me to think that, despite the fact that every musician playing here was improvising, it is hard to really call this improvised music. Certainly it is composition that used a lot of free improvisation to create its source material, but it is hard to still describe it as improvisation.

Another reason to think of a different way to define the music here is because somehow what we hear manages to lose so much of the vibrancy and vitality of improvisation. There is something about this music that use feels very precise and orchestrated, despite the way it was made. Sadly though, this feeling of precision also manages to suck out much of the energy of the music. I found this CD a real struggle to get through more than a couple of times without losing most of my interest in it. The playing is generally of a slow, languid, yet talkative and lyrical free improv style, but the tracks all seem to meander along without really building any intensity and with a feeling of safety to them. After the first couple of tracks I felt I knew that nothing dramatic would change over the next six. Its as if Chagas’ processes here, finding a way for the various parts to fit together, editing bits that all sit neatly beside one another, and then filling the gaps with his flute/clarinet etc has created something thoroughly inoffensive but also lacking a great deal in energy, emotion or excitement. It is tough to be so harsh about this CD, particularly as I like a lot of the other work I have heard by many playing here, but I found listening to this disc a dreary experience this evening. I found myself wondering if, had Chagas just left the eight musicians’ contributions intact, and then layered them all together whether the chance happenings might just have resulted in something more alive than his careful creations here. As it is, everything just feels a bit washed out, but then with clarinet and flute added over the top, and its rare for me to enjoy either of those two instruments at the best of times. The electronics and field recordings that Chagas is also credited with don’t make enough of their presence felt for me either, used as vague colouring behind the instrumental parts as much as anything.

Hard going then. All a bit safe and meandering for my tastes, and a rare thing in that this really sounds like a disc that has suffered for its geographically challenged method of collaboration, whereby I often find that the distance element with this kind of work sparks new impetus in the material. Not a disc I enjoy much then I am afraid. The sleeve image on the other hand, is eerily attractive. On the Audio Tong label.

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