NAKATANI-CHEN DUO

Limn
H&H Production H&H 6

Limning unexpected textures and harsh vibrations while avoiding conventional harmonies and predictable tones, LIMN confirms that there’s still plenty of territory left for intrepid sound explorers to chronicle.

Japanese-born, Easton, Penn-based percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani has been navigating this territory at least since he arrived in the United States in 1995. Gongs, cymbals, singing bowls, metal objects, various sticks and bows are his preferred methods of expression when he’s not resonating the regular kit. Along the way, he’s recorded memorable CDs with the likes of French saxophonist Michel Doneda and New York brassmen, trumpeter Nate Wooley and trombonist Steve Swell.

His duo partner here, cellist and vocalist Audrey Chen, graduated from Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory and has gone on to collaborate with improv and New music players like Sicilian saxophonist Gianni Gebbia and, like Nakatani, many dancers. In full flight, the two, who toured China in late fall, engages in a sort of transference. The drummer’s particular percussion timbres transcend rhythm and accompaniment, while Chen’s cello treatment goes beyond that of someone playing a chordaphone. Textures arise from Nakatani that in other hands would be extracted from percussion instruments, while Chen has been known to press her mouth to the wood of the cello, turning it into an oversized wind instrument.

These eccentric techniques affect her vocalizing as well. Chen doesn’t sing per se. Instead she processes sounds with her mouth, throat, lips and teeth, expelling the parts needed in a particular situation.

LIM’s duo performances are framed by an opening and a closing track which add textures from Austin-based Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel guitar. Moving between frailing finger-picking, guzheng-like echoing and distant chromatic tones, Alcorn limns a polytonal background for the two. Upon the ever-shifting harmonies Nakatani contributes ritualistic buzzes, cymbal crashes and bell-ringing. Meanwhile Chen adds droning pedal point from her cello and jarring cries from her mouth.

The CD’s remaining 13 tracks, book-ended by these two, take from barely one minute to more than nine minutes to unroll. When he isn’t quavering, quivering, thwacking or thumping his instruments, Nakatani concentrates on a single item at a time, as if he’s dragging one or another across studio floor or taking it apart with his bare hands. Tones normally associated with Africanized talking drums such as the berimbau or the batá come into play as well.

On the other hand, you couldn’t quite characterize what Chen does with her throat and mouth as talking, but it does encompass the emotional tinctures we association with conversation. Similarly, while her throat improvisations can be linked to the work of Japanese Onkyo singers, in the main she avoids the uncomfortable silences often associated with that sort of delivery. Other times, her vocal gymnastics resemble those of a davening cantor, a yelping pooch or a frightened crone in an Oriental horror flick.

On pieces such as “Dragon’s Den” and “Liplash” she traffics in hocketing falsetto yodels and oral textures more pulled from her thoat and epiglottis then framed by lips and teeth. The later piece finds her combining duck quacks, raspberries and tongue action that sound as if she’s twanging a Jew’s harp to meet Nakatani’s percussive rolls and thunks. On the former, vocal shrilling meets up with whistled semi tones from the top of her cello strings and expanded col legno action from its bottom ones.

Very occasionally legato string sweeps come into play, but more commonly her vigorous pulls and scrapes are sul pointicello or sul tasto. In contrast Nakatani is the most diffident of percussions, never bangs a snare when ringing a temple bell will do, and prefers to sound low-key pings and pops rather than flamboyant ruffs and flams.

Perfectly attuned string-and-percussion, hard core chamber music, with this strong showing the Nakatani-Chen Duo seems poised to go on to other triumphs.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Many Arms 2. Owl Money 3. Trilling 4. Thumb and Heel 5. Eating A Volcano 6. Finch 7. Bulk Flow 8. Dragon’s Den 9. Liplash 10. Zipped 11. From The Ends 12.Sprawl 13. Kestrel Beating 14. 4000 Miles 15. Bivouack

Personnel: Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar); Audrey Chen (cello and voice); Tatsuya Nakatani (percussion)