Thursday, February 21, 2019
Evelyn Davis, Fred Frith, Phillip Greenlief – Lantskap Logic (Clean Feed, 2018) *****
By Nick Ostrum
I imagine guitarist Fred Frith needs little introduction on these pages. Pipe organist Evelyn Davis and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief, however, may. At least, they were unfamiliar to me before I picked up this fine album. The result of this collaboration is grand and refined. It displays a patience, complexity, unity of purpose, and responsiveness that is quite impressive. And, it is deep. There are myriad threads and twists to follow, tangles to untie. If not careful or if otherwise preoccupied, it can be easy for the listener to get engrossed and lost in Lantskap Logic.
The first track, “Your ever loving arms,” begins with an organ, a swoosh, and a punctured saxophone drone. Greenlief weaves around the steady and welling low-tones as they repeatedly glissando and crescendo. The layers become denser and Davis’s organ comes to provide the steady, though subtly changing thread that provides the base around which Frith and Greenlief meander to powerful effect. Over the course of this track, it opens. The tones elevate. Rather than evoking gloom as some of the albums I recently reviewed have, this one evokes light and elevation. Rather than congestion, one feels space, motion, and, at the end, elation. Listening to this track is like travelling a path towards some abstract state of elation. The textures are deep, varied, and changing.
“With us or without us” begins with a gurgling and whistling, soon accompanied by a distant, repeating bass thump and augmented, metallic sounds. (I am not sure if Frith or Davis is responsible, but Davis is known for playing the interior of the organ as well as the keys.) Frith’s screeching guitar soon enters the picture as Greenlief’s saxophone settles into more idiomatic, elongated notes. These three musicians are conjuring something unique, here. This piece is heavier and more menacing than the first. The background bubbling and thudding lend a layer of portent to the otherwise industrial soundscape. About halfway through, the song approaches a brightness, but a persistent siren halts the progress. A droning hum and pulsing wisps and scrapes steer the track away from dawn, beyond twilight, and towards gloam. The sounds are still dense, however, and I wonder if I this is not also unsettling because of its luridness. This track in particular brings to mind a Utech records aesthetic, albeit not quite as metallic and despairing. Indeed, as the track turns with Frith’s broken trill and a Greenlief’s cavernous horn, Davis introduces a lighter progression of chords that, together, cut the tension. This track does not reach the level of ecstasy of “Your ever loving arms.” Still, it offers a glimmer of reconciliation, whether hope or acceptance, at its end. Absolutely stunning.