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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Eli Wallace with Beth McDonald and Ben Cohen

Eli Wallace - Solos/Duo (Eschatology, 2020) ****

By Paul Acquaro

Brooklyn based pianist Eli Wallace has been developing a dynamic approach to his instrument, running a spectrum from minimalist sounds to maximum energy. A while back I reviewed two recordings featuring Wallace from when he was transitioning from the west coast. Since then, he has released several excellent recordings, including (but not limited to) Cataclysmic Commentary with saxophonist Ben Cohen and drummer Dave Miller, the solo effort Barriers, and Evaporation with Cohen (see below).

His latest release, Solo/Duo, is comprised of two extended tracks, one solo, and the other a duo with tuba player Beth McDonald. Boston based McDonald is self-described as "classically trained tuba player gone awry." The recording is a great showcase for the aforementioned dynamic stylistic range, and as a compelling argument for extended techniques, in both approaches.

'Solo', a 29 minute opus, quickly builds from some percussive strikes and scratches at and along the length of the strings as well as friction-full rubs against the sides of the instrument, to a rhythmic collection of out of the ordinary piano use. Less focused on melody, though one feels implied, Wallace mixes the inside and the outside (physically and metaphorically) into a unusual and potent potion. At about the half-way mark, longer melodic snippets begin sneaking in, mostly in the lower register, and it becomes a call-and-response between these and the percussive approach he simultaneously applies. It is pretty easy to imagine that Wallace is using all of his limbs to draw the sounds from the instrument. 'Duo', with McDonald adding tuba, begins ominously. As one can easily imagine, there are some deep low-end things happening here. Flubbery blats and squeekily splats suggest a primordial, burbling stew of sound from which the suggestive and restrained track oozes.

Solo/Duo is a nice document of Wallace's development as a pianist and, as may be said, 'sonic explorer.' The solo piece is absorbing, going from disparate sounds to a cohesive piece, and back again, while the duo track is a meeting of musical minds, that impresses at every obtuse juncture. Cool stuff.

Eli Wallace & Ben Cohen - Evaporation (Eschatology, 2020) ****

Ben Cohen, also a Brooklyn-based musician, is curator of Eschatology records and a explorative saxophonist. His strong rapport with Wallace is showcased on their duo album Evaporation.

The recording begins with the 33-minute 'Saturation,' which is an apt term for their slowly soaking blanket of sound. Clicking keys of the sax, along with some other percussive elements feature as prominently as glissando's of the piano's inner strings as the two exchange ideas. By the second third of the track, they are at a much more frenetic point, Cohen on soprano and Wallace mixing keyboard sounds and percussive elements. The last third of the song finds the pair building to an energetic exchange of prepared piano and high-register sax work. This is followed by the short track 'Respite,' which, as suggested, offers a reflective moment, almost a musical stasis. Then the title track, at 10-minutes, rounds out the album quietly, indeed, the moisture that accumulated in the long first track slowly dissipates during this tense, brittle piece. It ends in whisper.