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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Flamingo - Loud (Relative Pitch, 2018) ****

Flamingo is a trio from Berlin, made up of bass player Adam Pultz Melbye, percussionist Christian Windfeld, and contra-bass clarinetist Chris Heenan, with a little help from the sound engineer Roy Carroll adding a touch of electronics. They eschew any song format for a one hour and 12-minute long improvisation that rises from the silence and take the listener on journey laced with texture and tension.

The album begins slowly, with the woodsy drone of the contra-bass clarinet and a rumble of drums. The sounds of the bow striking the strings of the bass, somewhat chaotically but with a rhythmic intent, compliments the percussive clatter, adding some seasoning to the quickly brewing stew. The frothing tones of the clarinet begins to bubble over as the trio slowly raises the temperature. But, like it is said, a watched pot never boils, and just as you think it's about to, they back off. Then, it becomes clear this group cooks with restraint, and are not going for anything obvious. 

Now that the metaphorical pot has been pulled from the imaginary flame, we can hear the elements cooling down. Minute eight and the clarinet drone winnows, blending in with the micro-tones emanating from the bass and the static tickling the edges of their sound. Minute thirteen and there is silence, then a splash of percussion. Something is drawing out a long drone, maybe the clarinet, maybe the bass, it is unclear, and that too might be the point. The trio is working with ingredients of music, using sounds and textures and playing them off of each other in pursuit of an emerging recipe. 

Music like this can be frustrating but satisfying, unconventional but comforting, and the trio shows it is deeply versatile at these contrasts. Moments of silence follow different technical combinations, as they build a shared vocabulary made from chance, which returns in new forms throughout the recording - like with the deep vibrations from the contra-bass clarinet (the instrument was made for this!) at 40 minutes that contrasts with the taught percussion, only to morph into forlorn cries over a gentle percussive pattern, then to what sounds like the tones from a musical saw. The shifts in sound and flavors come to a clattering close after 72 minutes of this intense collaboration, leaving the listener with a satisfying dish after all.