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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ingrid Laubrock and Tom Rainey - Utter (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****

By Gregg Daniel Miller

This is a very intimate record–the recording makes it so. Recorded and mixed by Andy Taub, mastered by Weasel Walter, no less. Closely miked sax, Laubrock’s slightly hollow, dry tone, even austere, on the way to haunting. What you hear is breath, space, muted tonguing, a hint of the room echo, a squawk here, a gently laid tone there, a very personal saxophone. Rainey’s brushes are sweet, just enough, not too much. His cymbal touches and rim hits are measured, chasing after Laubrock, occasionally tumbling his own way down the stairs, but mostly providing emphasis, but not a second song. The saxophone is way out in front. Laubrock’s playing is really the show. Rainey limits his sound/texture pallet quite a bit. Rainey infuses the overall sound with energy and pace according to the sense of musical phrases/gestures, he doesn’t answer to a controlling time-loop. We hear sax keys closing, popping, and mouth noises over Rainey’s stacatto brushwork, rhythmic tone chopping. Some long hollow moans. The richness of the instrument is strongly presented as a feature. Very much a tenor/soprano sax record. There is no fear or anger in Laubrock’s playing, no animosity or angst. An emotionally dry affair. It is not made attractive by histrionics or groove. An interval of genuine fire music and through it Laubrock’s playing remains perfectly clear, in control. On “Chant II,” nervous bird whispering altissimo on soprano. A joyful spirit, some genuine, serious play. She stresses the interval between breath and sound, where each appears as the other’s edge. “Dusk” plays with the microtonal to good effect. On “Riddled,” some quickly moving puzzle patterns. “Shutter” features some speed work and interesting intervals–more of a song than the rest of the recording. Otherwise Laubrock’s note patterns are exploratory and add up to an abstract, pointillist mosaic. At times the playing meanders, but the risk seems worth it. Except on “Shutter,” the tunes don’t have a structure- no head, no repeats, no themes, no breaks, no acknowledgment of what just happened or anticipatory gestures towards what might happen. All the narrative story-telling devices are gone. We’re in that indeterminate space of close freedom where one sound leads to the next, fingers and mouth and breath and sticks move across a surface without depth or dimension.

Overall, we have a document of two players at the top of their game respecting and listening to their instruments and each other. Nothing grand ever occurs; it’s a prosaic encounter with the sonic, textural possibilities of sax and drum. Listening is like being privy to a conversation in confidence between friends wholly sympathetic with one another’s ways of expression.