Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Robbie Lee - Prismatist (Relative Pitch Records, 2021) ****

By Keith Prosk

Multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee presents fourteen tracks for sopranino saxophone, tuning forks, and electronics on the 37’ Prismatist.

Lee works in an eclectic variety of contexts with a diverse range of instruments. Some previous recordings of particular interest to readers might include Seed Triangular with Mary Halvorson, Exotic Sin’s Customer’s Copy , and contributions to tracks on Fraufraulein’s Extinguishment and Lea Bertucci’s Resonant Field . A duo with Bertucci, Winds Bells Falls , is due in February 2022 from Telegraph Harp, a label Lee co-runs.

The press release describes an aspect of Prismatist’s sopranino as “folk-like,” and that’s certainly a sense at the fore of my ear. Beyond glimpses of something familiar - or maybe melody is comfort enough to convey familiarity - and a strong personal association of the instrument with Lol Coxhill, whose practice contained parallels to folk music, the instrument’s petulant timbre imparts the rawness imagined of ancient winds, essential and piercing in its diminutive shape, the melodies’ circularity feels fit for the ritual of dance, appearing iterative but expanding and contracting - zooming in to one sound or out to flourishes - and trying nuanced stresses and inflections in its fleet-footed variations, and tracks’ lengths are short, songs’ lengths. The speed of play is fast, sometimes slurring into skronk. Some moments reveal the limit of breath, not just inhalations and rest amidst its tightly wound soundings but groans like vocal multiphonics from the pressure required of the instrument. Sopranino-forward tracks alternate with tuning-fork-forward tracks, twinkling fork strikes’ singing sines and their distortions’ lullaby chorus. Vibrating close to other objects to clink like alarm clocks. Tapping as if to find the room’s resonance rather than their own. Ringing like some repurposed bell choir for morse melodies. Seemingly suspending overtones’ decay to paint tone colorfield. There is an unsuspected warmth and dimensionality to the tuning fork tracks, compared to the sharp attack of sopranino, and in one sense these flipped expectations reflect the prism.

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