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Monday, November 11, 2019

Sean Ali, Leila Bordreuil, Joanna Mattrey - I Used To Sing So Lyrical (Astral Spirits, 2019) ****

By Keith Prosk

Sean Ali (contrabass), Leila Bordreuil (cello), and Joanna Mattrey (viola) create dense arco textures for 37 minutes across three tracks on I Used To Sing So Lyrical. Ali appears on the blog with some frequency, especially in collaboration with Carlo Costa. Readers might remember Bordreuil from The Caustic Ballads with Michael Foster. And Mattrey just appeared on one of this year’s best recordings in Jessica Pavone’s Brick and Mortar. Ali and Bordreuil both appear on Lea Bertucci’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, though in separate performances; this is the first time these players have recorded together.

Most of the music is an impressive array of bowing techniques, shredding, scraping, and scratching the gut to its last thread, emitting timbres both deep and woody and high and tinny, evoking moods of tension, suspense, and sorrow. The space is full and the total volume is typically high in “Relic,” yet it displays excellent dynamics through relative volume, fluxing bowing speeds and pulses, and counterpoint. The maelstrom is briefly broken up with the introduction of some objects, perhaps chains and mallets to the body of the bass. “Something About This Room” begins more quietly, with plucked bass providing a clearer sense of movement for the wandering viola and cello, but builds to an all-out arco assault. And “The Air Thick Like So” is a kind of vortex of bows, occasionally separating and slowing harmonically only to converge and quicken, like a feeding frenzy of sharks at the drop of chum.

There’s a sense that other string trios could have made this as well, though that may be due to my relative unfamiliarity with the players and their individual characteristics, but the results are addictively listenable regardless. It’s quite an accomplishment for this new trio, that already move as a thoroughly cohesive unit with a fantastic take on harmony and dynamics.
I Used To Sing So Lyrical is available digitally and on cassette.