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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Zeena Parkins - Double Dupe Down (Tzadik 2012) **½

 Reviewed by Joe

Well this is one hell of a surprise, for me anyhow. I couldn't decide whether to give this album two or twenty-two stars, it's certainly a difficult one to review for me. I did a quick scan round the net to get a little information and discovered that it's a compilation (so they say) of film music from five films. Unfortunately I didn't know anything about this, so I was wandering about in the dark when trying to get a hold on the music, I guess that's maybe the best place to write a review from.

When listening to the album from a completely neutral position the first thing that comes across is how bitty it is. There are 19 tracks which range from 0:37 seconds to the longest at 5:05. My first impression was like listening to out-takes from an early John Zorn album. The tracks seem to move quickly from beautiful string trios to scratched noise duos which fly out of the speakers, disappearing as quickly as they arrive. Although each piece does have something interesting it's often without any connection to the last track. As an example the album finishes off with the track 'Anthem', which is the Star Spangled Banner played a la Jimi Hendrix. There's no guitar mentioned so I imagine it's Zeena Parkins' sampling - maybe made up from Hendrix samples? In spite of that I couldn't quite see what the purpose was, and the American national anthem isn't really a favourite in this house either. But in general the bones of the album are made up from semi classical pieces - 'Opening Credits' 'Zoo', 'No Sweet Love', 'Fireworks', 'Allegra' and 'The Air is Perfectly Clear'. These are all miniature compositions, and very attractive pieces I should add, generally performed using harp, cello and violin.   

Other confusions, probably due to the film music aspect of the record is the wonderful atmospheres which don't go anywhere. The first track is an excellent example 'Harpstrings and Lava', an eerie piece which hangs in the air expectantly. Sounds of pedal steel or bottleneck harp (?), clicks and hiss floating through a sustained chord finally leads us to a short harp cadenza. You wonder what will happen next? There are noise tracks, there are sudo classical tracks, there are electro-acoustic tracks, there are even bagpipe tracks - 'Pipes Oompie'. The mix is enormous and for anyone having seen the films these are taken from, or dedicated to, there's probably lots of very interesting references. You can't complain about the music, each track has something to offer, and often something interesting but it's a bit like eating a plate of Egg fried noodles with ice-cream, boiled fish, chocolate mousse, oysters, lemonade and a glass of red wine.    

Finally, if you see the people involved (see below) in the pieces you'll understand the range of music to be found on the CD. I only really know Zeena Parkins from her amazing work with other musicians, so maybe if you know her work already, or even the films this music comes from then you'll probably enjoy this. If not I suggest you start elsewhere. 

Shelley Hirsch: Voice
Okkyung Lee: Cello
Christian Marclay: Turntables
Ikue Mori: Electronics
Zeena Parkins: Harps, Keyboard, Objects, Electronics, Yamaha Cs-80, Gleeman Pentaphonic Synth.
Sara Parkins: Violin
David Watson: Bagpipes
Matthew Welch: Bagpipes
William Winant: Percussion
Maggie Parkins: Cello
James Pugliese: Drums
James Staley: Trombone


Fergus said...


In speaking of those other places to start, have you listened to Fred Frith's (with Zeena Parkins) Cosa Brava? Their latest - "The Letter" - is spectacular I think. Henry Cow-meets-Romani, downtown.

joesh said...

Hi Fergus,

No, I haven't heard that album. However, I saw them in concert a couple years ago, excellent stuff. I particularly like Zeena's work with Ellery Eskelin also.

Thanks for the tip, I'll look that one out.