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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Norbert Rodenkirchen / Robbie Lee / James Ilgenfritz - Opalescence (Telegraph Harp, 2018) ****

By Eyal Hareuveni

Soon, hopefully, the collaboration of New York-based multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee with guitarist Mary Halvorson on Seed Triangular (New Amsterdam) may trigger a much deserved attention to the sonic aesthetics of Lee. He is an unusual composer and improviser who focuses of challenging experiments with pre-modern and post-modern instruments in new contexts.

A recent project of Lee teams him with a pioneer explorer of medieval flutes, German master Norbert Rodenkirchen, and innovative double bass player James Ilgenfritz, who also has played with Lee in a trio with drummer Brian Chase. Opalescence, the debut album of this unconventional trio, features many exotic and strange instruments, all are played in fresh and bold manners. Rodenkirchen plays medieval flutes, baroque flute, Beaudin modern traverso and piccolo, Lee plays the giant contrabass recorder, chalumeau, gemshorn, sopranino saxophone, Beaudin and medieval flutes, glissando Kingma-system quarter-tone flute, F flute and Ilgenfritz focuses on arco playing on the double bass.

The sonic palette of this chamber acoustic trio sounds like nothing you have listened to before. An unclassifiable, timeless, and often an alien amalgam in a mostly free-improvised setting, focuses on extended techniques, unique tunings which allow perfect harmonic intervals, hushed microtonal harmonics, and intricate timbral interplay. The rich, idiosyncratic vocabularies of these resourceful musicians is informed, naturally, by medieval music and folk traditions but navigates freely with references to French renaissance composer Josquin, to contemporary music - especially the spectral composers Giacinto Scelsi, Iannis Xenakis and Gérard Grisey, and obviously modern jazz, reminding us that Roscoe Mitchell already include the baroque flute in his arsenal of instruments.

The spirit of the trio music is warm, bright and sometimes even innocence, despite the raging blizzard outside the recording hall or the cerebral, experimental affinity of these musicians. Often they sound like mad sonic scientists who join forces in search for a perfect, alchemical tone, but it is clear that they simply having fun, enjoying the playful games and the explorations of new sounds and dynamics. The beautiful, futurist folk melody of “Society of the First Snowfall” highlights the open approach of this trio, always eager to engage in new adventures. “Mille Regretz” stresses the organic flow from an exquisite investigation of arco harmonics by Ilgenfritz to a dreamy medieval drone by the trio. The concise ”Spectral Corridors” offers accessible insights into complex compositional strategies. “The Invention Of Dreaming” sketches a suggestive, subtle cinematic texture and “Last Day-Lost Day” expands this vein with more colorful, dramtic and otherworldly sounds.