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Friday, May 17, 2019

Guillermo Gregorio & Brandon Lopez - 12 Episodes (Relative Pitch, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Guillermo Gregorio (clarinet) and Brandon Lopez (contrabass) play freely across twelve tracks lasting 39 minutes on 12 Episodes. I love duos because each player is given ample time and space to really display their personality and still engage in player to player communication. The duo is a rare and welcome format for these two; I believe this is Lopez’ first recorded duo and Gregorio has only recorded the format with Paul Giallorenzo on Multiverse and Ran Blake on Something To Live For. The duo do well for themselves and I hope it’s the first of many meetings, especially considering Gregorio’s penchant for developing lasting relationships with physical, violent strings (e.g. Fred Lonberg-Holm and Kent Kessler) and Lopez’ penchant for playing such strings.

The 12 tracks are structured in such a way that the first two thirds of the recording last as long as the last third, with the earlier vignettes having only enough time to explore one thread though they navigate few thematic changes in the longer tracks too. Despite the tracks’ structural monotony, each one is timbrally rich. Gregorio cuts up mellifluous lines with overblown distorted tones, circularly breathes furiously flurried flights, and utilizes key clicks, air notes, tongue clicks, and perhaps some light voicing. Lopez switches up his typical, physical arco by tapping the strings with the bow, sawing below the bridge, tapping and rubbing the body, preparing the bass by threading something through the strings, plucking the strings so hard they buzz against the neck, rubbing the strings so hard the flayed sound is almost like a chair creaking (think Raging Bull), and splaying out bowed tones’ chroma like a prism disperses a ray of light. And though there aren’t many thematic changes to listen to each other for, the communication between the two is present and prompt, with each player matching the cadences and complimenting the textures of the other.

Beyond the somewhat limiting structure of the takes, my only criticism is that Lopez tends to resort to a walking - or rather lumbering - bassline when Gregorio falls back to more mellifluous playing, and I think some syncopation or unequal time would have complimented Gregorio’s more subtle angles a bit better. However, this is a rich, colorful study from two masters that’s just as much fun as Gregorio’s legendary Hathut run or Lopez’ recent exceptional work, including this year’s Old Smoke with Steve Baczkowski and Chris Corsano (also on Relative Pitch).

12 Episodes is a CD-only release.