By Paul Acquaro
It is sort of maximum minimalism. New York City based Pianist and composer Eli Wallace, perhaps in reaction to the unique constraints of the Covid situation, set some stringent constraints of his own to produce the music behind his new recording Precepts, and the result is an intriguing, layered and controlled suite of impressionistic music.
Impressionistic may not be the best adjective, but the music does not contain melody or harmony in any traditional sense. Rather, the quartet assembled here, including Erica Dicker on violin, Lester St. Louis on cello, and Sean Ali on double bass, make choices from a restricted palette of sounds that Wallace presents via graphical scores (for more background on the concepts, check out here).
As mentioned earlier, the music that results is a shifting aggregation of layers. The strings of the violin, cello, bass, and even the piano, ring with brittle vibrations, muffled tones, and extended harmonic frequencies. There are times when the sounds are reduced to percussive rings, or scratches, as well as moments when a tone sounds out momentously clear. The recording is broken into four distinct tracks. Of these, 'Precepts III' is quite dynamic. The opening moments feature swooping legato tones from the bass, a clatter from inside the piano, and streaks of notes from the violin. The structure, which one can feel more than pinpoint, is a result of the creative use of density, intensity, and propensity.
Precepts is a neat work, Wallace has put a lot of thought into the concepts behind the music to develop an approach that is composed conceptually and realized through improvisation. The result is music that is not easily digestible, but still rather accessible and engaging, as small sounds and broad ranges of tones contrast and shift. The more you listen, the more you hear. Headphones recommended.