A while back, I casually mentioned on Twitter that I was writing a 4 ½-star review of North Carolina bassist David Menestres’s newest Polyorchard release, a double-album of duets with trombonist Jeb Bishop, recorded live over three days in April 2019, in Bloomington, Nashville, and Columbus, Ohio. As you can see above, in the intervening time, I’ve re-scored this release, and it’s become one of my must-own recommendations for the year. To try and answer why, and to seek something of a design in my own experience with the album, it’s important to remember where we’re at in the history of now. At some point, years in the future, listening to this album will inspire reminisces, remembering its release predated the pandemic, but its audience was subsumed by it.
Now, then. First, how did I arrive at “must-own”? There are a few trombone and bass duo albums that I pulled out while writing this: Tristan Honsinger and Günter Christmann’s Earmeals, Paul Rogers and Paul Rutherford’s Rogues, and I also dipped into Maarten Altena’s discography to revisit his and Wolter Wierbos’s interactions, and played loads of Steve Swell albums, plus a few random curveballs. Easily, without hesitation, ink stands alongside the best of these, in the sense that it demonstrates the breadth of interaction between two talented musicians, each performer pushing themselves and their instruments to occasional extremes. Ink draws its inspiration from free improvisation, visual art, poetry, outsider art, and threads tenuous connections that continuously strengthen and rewrite themselves upon further listening. The performances play with the audience’s desire for more traditional improvisatory drama. Starting with “early blooming parentheses,” Bishop’s physicality is an invitation to deep listening (Emily Leon likewise notes his breath as “a third player” on the album). We, collectively, talk sometimes about music that transports a listener to faraway spaces. There is a similar effect listening to ink, although where one is transported to may be different for each listener. By the time I got to “written in water” and “the caesura between”—roughly the midpoint of the album—while listening on noise-canceling headphones, with Menestres’s bowing ringing deep, resonant echoes within, I found myself in a space of suspended reflection. The final two tracks, “a civil tongue in your mouth” and “genesis of the blue cell” are tremendous performances, 30 minutes worth the entire price of admission. Starting with Menestres’s strident bass, Bishop enters with a muted solo response, and the give-and-take gives way to a funky, swinglike duet. As the first morphs into the second, and final, song, the players temporarily displace themselves, sounds scattering to open the way for a lengthy solo from each player. “genesis of the blue cell” brilliantly showcases the duo’s use of silence. I was reminded of the great Joseph Jarman and Famadou Don Moye duo album Egwu-Anwu, one of the finest duo albums that likewise showcases silence as something of a shared instrument. In the current era of distancing, hearing two musicians connect so deeply and meaningfully evokes the transcendent power of human interactions. More than remembering or commemorating these moments—or, more often, gamely trying to recreate them in virtual space—there is great value in experiencing them, as ink magnificently allows.
Album is available for through Bandcamp:
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Terrific write up Lee, this album is definitely a standout for me as well. What a duo!
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