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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Sothiac feat. Paul Jolly - Superluna (Sothiac/33 Jazz Records) ****½

By Sammy Stein

Pat Moonchy is a vocalist who has performed across the globe as a solo artist and with various collaborators including Todd Tobias, Alfa Neu and more. She ran the alternative community hub, The Moonshine Pub until 2015 and her interest in art is integral to her persona and music. She has studied shamanism and her discovery of the tanpura - a long necked Indian stringed instrument - was integral to the development of her vocal technique. Past bands include Doublegänger with Lucio Liguori, (grandson of free drummer Lino Liguori), Gopala and collaborations with many experimental musicians as well as solo projects.

Lucky Liguori is a multi instrumentalist and electronic sound creator. Together Moonchy and Liguori are Sothiac. The duo have played with many different musicians in many different settings. Based in London they have toured China, Europe and Japan. Their most recent albums are Sothis (2016) and Erebia Christi (2017) which blend elements of free jazz, landscape, industrial_noise and psychedelic/doom. Over the last twenty years they have played with Faust, Sawada, Angelo Avogadri, Lino Liguori, Angelo Contini, Dirk Dhonau, Lars Nicolaysen.

A meeting of the duo with bass clarinet player Paul Jolly led to a new collaboration and project, with Paul featuring on this recording. Just two tracks - one of over 20 minutes and the other just over 8 minutes the interactions between the vocals, electronics and bass clarinet is different, extraordinary and there are moments of exquisite amalgamations where the sounds meet in a place outside normal range but where the imagination knows no bounds. The recording was made during a period when all the musicians were in lock down, which makes it all the more extraordinary. It is hoped the collaboration continues once everything goes back to some kind of normality.

Phase 1 is 20 minutes plus of extraordinary sounds. A cymbal opens the number and sets the atmospheric theme with bass clarinet entry high, reedy and then dipping right down to a growling presence, over which the eerie wail of the vocals rises and soars over the top; not so much of an emergence, more of a falling on to the solidity of the echoic backdrop of the electronics and bass clarinet. The vocals are exemplary and Pat Moonchy seems to have an ability to hit the notes the brain is missing when seeking coherency in this music. In some cases her extended vibrato is almost impossible to believe.

Sothiac is the Egyptian name for the Dog Star and fits well in this case with the spacey, atmospheric feelings around this music as the voice searches, extends and pushes whilst the bass clarinet plugs the gaps in tonal, rounded sounds, contrasted by raw, breathy upper register notes which add a sense of intrigue into the framework. The spiritual quality of this music is implosive, overpowering and the imagination runs riot as crackling, throaty sounds are intertwined with the explorative clarinet and electronic background.

The vocals are astounding as they soar creating swirling, achingly beautiful wreaths of sound. As 'Phase 1' develops the sense of the ethereal is difficult to shake off and there is a sense of a wraith, passing across the land, dipping down every so often to give sounds which are audible to human ears but also wafting into the ether where no ear can follow. It is an experience listening to this music, the vocals , powerful, exploratory ; the electronics and percussion temporal yet permanently present and the bass clarinet offering at time melodic phrases and at others jittery notes which counter the spiritual vocals with their sense of grounding. Considering the difference in range and pitch between Moochy's voice and instrument, the bass clarinet is an inspired choice and very effective in this combination. The last third sees the vocals stretched almost beyond credulity whilst the clarinet continues its path, low and sonorous, motifs responding to clear linear sounds from the voice. Strings and electronic sounds lead for a while and the vocals rest and then re-enter and it is at this point the pattern to the voice becomes clear. A repeated phrase, a line or two taken, re-invented but the same line used again, the use of patterns creates familiarity. It is quite, quite extraordinary how listenable this is, the sense of the lost, wandering spirit over grounded bass, and the knowledge that because this music inspires the imagination, everyone will have different images when they hear it.

'Phase 2' is again announced by a gong-like cymbal but there is a deeper emphasis to this part of the recording, the clarinet more apparent, the vocals more constructed and stronger then before even. The way the cymbals and clarinet work and weave together is extraordinary, the enhanced echoes of the percussion resonating over the sound work of the clarinet line. This is a great phase where 3 exploratory improvisers are listening and bouncing off each other to create deeply textured and interesting interactions.

Pat Moonchy's voice has inborn vocal characteristics and a distinctive signature, both of which have been enhanced by training and are now tools honed to almost perfection, which she uses at will. 'Lucky' Lucio Liguori brings a sense of exploration, electronic skills and instrumental combination techniques and Paul Jolly brings his experience, musicality and explorative skills, all of which serve to create something intense, extraordinary and quite lovely.