Click here to [close]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Phantom Orchard - Orra (Tzadik, 2008) ****

Phantom Orchard is the brainchild of Zeena Parkins (harp, omnichord) and Ikue Mori (electronics). Their first release was issued in 2004, and now they have a new album called Orra on the Composer Series of the Tzadik label. Both artists create a surreal musical environment, which is friendly, warm and accessible on the surface, but the undercurrent is one of displacement, perplexity, mystery, pain and distress. The title of the album refers to a verse by the Scottish poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie.

"Yea, when the cold blood shoots through every vein :
When every pore upon my shrunken skin
A knotted knoll becomes, and to mine ears
Strange inward sounds awake, and to mine eyes
Rush stranger tears, there is a joy in fear"
(Joanna Baillie, 1762-1851 : Orra, A Tragedy)

And this "joy in fear" reflects the sentiment of the whole album well. There is something inevitable in the outcome, an acceptance of fate, which relieves the listener of all anxiety, despite the presence of the fear that a catastrophe will happen. So tension abounds, and a strange beauty too, accompanied by scary sounds, creating an uneasy attractiveness.

The two women are joined by Makigami Koichi on voice and jew's harp, Josh Quillen on steel drum, Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje on voice and real time processing and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The music is slow, subtle, precise with little sounds clustering together to create a whole which has coherence and a direction. The overall effect is a musical world that you will have rarely heard. It is surely not jazz. This is experimental music, yet focused on the emotional expressiveness of music, regardless of the form it takes, not with the experiment itself as a goal, and some of the pieces are of wonderful beauty, sweet and dark and the same time. I've said before that I'm not a fan of electronics, but these two musicians manage to create something unique with it. Not everything works for me, but most of it, and that's already good enough.

© stef