By Sammy Stein
Tamarisk comprises bassist, composer, and writer David Menestres, composer and improviser Andrew Weathers, and guitarist and vocalist Christina Carter. Tamarisk Plays A Word For Sun was recorded live at Co-Opt in April 2022.
The recording inexorably draws the listener in as the trio improvises around guitars, vocals, and percussive elements provided by instruments and the spaces between the notes.
Starting as almost a whisper, the music builds into a sonic landscape that carries the listener through, with intricacies shared between the musicians, emotional outpourings, and twists and turns in the metric patterns and tempos, which are breathtaking.
The profound intensity of this music is what free playing is all about, with subtle and not-so-subtle atmospheric changes dictated by reactionary and profoundly interpreted complementary actions.
After the gentle introduction sections where the voice and strings communicate together, the bass sets up a rhythm over which the voice drops again, searingly emotive and sounding at times like an extension of the strings themselves.
The extremes of the instruments are explored with the bass at times grinding on stretched strings or weaving intricate melodics behind the vocals. The vocals largely dictate the essence of this recording as Carter swings between breathy intakes to gloriously held upper notes and short, plucky interludes where she sings like a sigh in a folksy, spiritual manner, almost shamanic in its delivery.
Around the 16-minute mark, the listener is treated to threadbare vocals over percussive additions. This works into a well-timed and exquisitely delivered louder section with horn-like blasts, scratch bass, and glorious disharmonies.
When the voice enters again, it is tremulous, almost inquisitive, and the bass reacts, seemingly welcoming the return.
The approximately halfway mark is stamped with electronic sounds under which bells shift and shuffle, creating mesmeric sound tones, with the guitar gently imbibing chords underneath. The percussive elements rise and fade, and the strings are given a voice, to which vocals add repeated, 'I hear you.' A delightful wave pattern of guitar and bass interaction follows, and the effect is transformative.
The rhythm patterns develop a regularity, and the vocals preside over deep, thumping strings before the voice is left to solo, high, and pure.
The recording is unsettling at times, as the musicians interact with various and intricate language, which is musical, yet pushes many boundaries, so the brain takes a while to catch up with the ears, as the complex depths reveal themselves with each listen.
Throughout this live recording, there is a sense of intense communion between the musicians; sometimes, a complex conversation happens, and the listening is almost palpable at others.
With a clear understanding of breath control, noise, musical sound, and instrumental exploration, this recording is, to borrow a quote from Andrew Weather, 'special and extremely weird.' It exemplifies how three musicians, working closely and listening profoundly, can take the listener through various soundscapes, developing the music and understanding the effect it will have, whether they are playing solo or in harmony.
What is striking are the changes in the atmosphere, developed from the simple or complex nature of the sound created.
Special indeed, this is a recording for the committed free improvisational music audience, and it will not disappoint. Weird, not so much because it is music that flows from the musicians' hearts and into that of the listener. Menestres told me he was convinced the recording would be a good idea – so convinced he drove 3780.9 miles round trip between his base in North Carolina and the others' bases in Texas to make it happen. He was right to go with his instincts. This recording was a very good idea.