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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Natura Morta – Environ (Neither Nor, 2017) ****

By Dan Sorrells

Environ is the fourth release from Natura Morta, the trio of Frantz Loriot on viola, Sean Ali on bass, and Neither Nor label head Carlo Costa on percussion. “Environ” is an unusual word that makes me think of things on a small scale, like some indivisibly tiny unit of one’s surroundings, or as a verb, being enveloped by things outside of your awareness or ability to perceive. Indeed, the music exists in a world of invisible but pervasive forces, of dust and wind and mycelia. The trio’s music is often noted for its focus and intensity, and Environ further tightens the former in service of ratcheting up the latter.

At Costa's suggestion, I listened to the record loud. Many of the instrumental techniques are those one might associate with lowercase improvisation, only amplified and writ large due to Nathaniel Morgan’s meticulous recording and mastering. The effect is jarring, perhaps even menacing: a revenge of the microscopic, a dreaded feeling that the tiny, unnoticed things are expanding into the macro-sized world. Across three tracks, Natura Morta magnify the realm of quiet improvisation until it rages at the volume of fire music.

The bristling opening track “Pulvis” has a bimodal shape with dual crescendos: one is an accretion of small events, the other a complete wash of sound, Costa’s cymbals rising to subsume everything. “Ventus” is an encroaching, relentless march of keening viola and a stumbling rhythm of dampened hi-hats, toms, and wood block. As the silence is increasingly stamped out, it’s interesting to contrast the transparency of the opening minutes with the suffocating opaqueness at the midpoint. Eventually, it all collapses into a dreamy haze, with bowed cymbals, subterranean bass throbs, and Loriot whistling like wind through the eaves. The album closes with the more “traditional” free improvisation of “Mycelia,” a blustery arms race between the three musicians that finally winnows into a single, ringing tone.

As with all of Natura Morta’s music, the emphasis on summoning nearly unrecognizable timbres from acoustic instruments is fascinating. Identifying who is doing what is not necessarily difficult, but just how they are extracting such sounds is often a source of mystery. In all, another challenging offering from Costa and company, who are building Neither Nor into a vanguard label of improvised music.


Martin Schray said...

Very nice comment, Dan. Brief and spot on.

Dan said...

Thanks for your kind words, Martin. I always appreciate your acknowledgement!