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Thursday, September 3, 2020

John McCowen - Two Energy Cops at 3AM (DAAANG, 2020) ****

By Keith Prosk

The humorous name, the amateurish cover art, the short 15-minute playtime, and the quick 6-day turnaround from recording to release might belie the sublime listening experience of the two solos on Two Energy Cops at 3AM, on which John McCowen channels prime Evan Parker’s skronky soprano solos.

Both tracks here are continuous due to circular breathing and multiphonic, with at least four clearly audible lines of: (1) a deeper, woodier, more controlled, more dynamic primary line; (2) a lighter, breathier, morse code; (3) a metallic rattling and purring; and (4) shrill, sometimes martial overtone interjections that can build to screaming outbursts. The interactions of these dynamic lines form a rich polyrhythm with an impressive breadth of pulses and pitches and colors. The higher frequencies of the Bb clarinet contribute to the harsher, noisier character of the music, compared to the mellower tones of the contrabass clarinet so often found in McCowen’s music. The sensibilities concerning pacing and placement of accents and rhythmic or timbral changes is expert; nothing here is static or monotonous or sterile. It’s simply an awesome set of solos that will wow most listeners.

And it demonstrates McCowen’s continuing development in the mastery of the clarinet family, as the clarity and control of these various simultaneous techniques is noticeably elevated compared to, for example, 4 Chairs in Three Dimensions. A delight to listen to and highly recommended. It’s brevity might actually encourage repeat listens.

Two Energy Cops at 3AM is a digital-only release.