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Wednesday, May 1, 2024

James Ilgenfritz - Stay Logged In On This Trusted Device (Infrequent Seams, 2024)

By Don Phipps

More modern classical than free jazz, James Ilgenfritz’s “Stay Logged In On This Trusted Device” features four Ilgenfritz compositions performed in four different settings – solo bass with electronics, a saxophone quartet, an octet which features two bassists, and a baseless quartet. Eschewing in your face dynamics, the music Ilgenfritz presents here is cerebral, abstract and minimalist. Think clever exhibitions of sound in slow motion.

For example, Ilgenfritz’s “Almostness” is a twenty-minute bass solo and electronics abstraction that develops slowly – often emphasizing a two note or even a single note theme alternating with silent passages. Added in are effects like double stop bass bowing or an emphasis on overtones. Like David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” red room – this music suggests a surreal place where dreams merge with reality.

The New Thread Quartet, a sax group comprised of Geoffrey Landman on soprano, Kristen McKeon on alto, Erin Rogers on tenor, and Zach Herchen on baritone, perform Ilgenfritz’s formalistic “Trust Fall,” a 12-minute piece in which the quartet offers up a range of sonic and sometimes comical effects – bird like screeches, gnat/mosquito like hums, and towards the end, what might be described as car horn harmonics. There are even passages where the sax players blow air through their instruments without generating notes, all the time clicking their keys.

For his eight-part Apophenia V, Ilgenfritz calls upon the Ghost Ensemble [Breana Gilcher (oboe), Ben Richter (accordion), Lucia Stavros (harp), Chris Nappi (percussion), Cassia Streb (viola), Jennifer Bewerse (cello), James Ilgenfritz (contrabass), Scott Worthington (contrabass), and Carl Bettendorf (conductor)]. There is an impressionistic back and forth between Gilcher’s oboe and Nappi’s vibraphone in Part A. On the topsy turvy Part B, bass and accordion play in bouncy unison. On Part C, what sounds like an uncredited flautist plays flutters above the sound of a winding clock as Stavros plucks the harp. On Part D, Nappi uses percussion to create atmospherics behind the ensemble’s staccato and syncopated notes. On Part E, the basses bow rumbling notes. The piece features an extended yet unsettling vertical up and down passage and it ends with bass and cello plucks in unison. Part F highlights bass bowing over bells and a syncopated back and forth. On Part G, Bewerse and the unidentified flautist play above the vibraphone. Part H offers foghorn effects and what sounds like a rain stick makes an appearance. Gilcher and Richter give solid performances on the piece.

The final number, Subject-Object-Abject is performed by Hypercube, a quartet comprised of Erin Rogers (saxophone), Jay Sorce (electric guitar), Andrea Lodge (piano/accordion) and Chris Graham (percussion). The abstractions here, like the other pieces, feature lots of space between notes, but this time with Morse code dits and dots and subtle runs. Graham uses small percussion instruments to great effect - and the group creates the musical equivalent of an icy, Artic landscape or the barren lunar surface.

That said, “Stay Logged In On This Trusted Device” does have one glaring weakness – it eschews emotions. There is nothing that bonds a listener more to music than feelings. However, the music presented here is more akin to a book on differential equations as opposed to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Please note that music doesn’t have to communicate emotion, but emotion is what connects the artist and the listener. The album fails on this dimension, and this missing element provides for a dry though interesting musical experience.

Listen and download from Bandcamp