John Edwards/Okkyung Lee

White Cable Black Wires
Fataka 3

By Ken Waxman

Like the spools of sharp wires pictured on the inner sleeve of White Cable Black Wires, the sounds that make up this CD are industrial, utilitarian and rugged. During the course of five fully improvised tracks British double bassist John Edwards and Koran-American cellist Okkyung Lee vie with one another to expand a mini-suite of scrubs, scuffs, jangles and pumps to its furthest limits. The result is anything but melodious. But it’s never less than captivating in its power.

Edwards, whose activity on the London free music scene is analogous to William Parker’s in NYC – working with everyone from saxophonist John Butcher to The Remote Viewers group – has similar noise-band experience as the cellist. Utilizing his muscular fluency he manages to simultaneously hold down the tracks’ thematic bottom(s) while also ripping descriptive whimpers from his punished string set when needed. Knowledgeable about extended techniques from her so-called classical and ethnic music studies, Lee often kinetically stabs her strings to produce near-human cries. At the same time she prudently appends a series of col legno thumps at points to satisfactorily join with the bassist’s string motions. Always together they propel the narrative forward.

The two constantly listening to one another means that a track such as “WCBW II” remains tightly connected, no matter how much triple stopping unrolls at a high velocity or how many strings pop passionately. High-pitched rasps and knife-sharp string slices share space with low-pitched scrubs as vibrations from string and wood snap and shudder back onto themselves. Col legno thumps bring in suggestions of drum beats while resonating string twangs could come from steel guitars. At the same time lengthened silences and split-second, more guarded episodes provide a sense of dynamics to the ardent improvisations.

In her work with saxophonist Evan Parker and others, Lee has shown herself capable of concertizing at the highest level of improvisational smarts. Operating alongside another four-string player unquestionably makes the interface that much more intense and satisfying. Describing this as dissonant chamber music wouldn’t be too far from the mark.

Tracks: WCBWI; WCBWII; WCBWIII; WCBWIV; WCBWV

Personnel: Okkyung Lee (cello); John Edwards (bass)

—For The New York City Jazz Record May 2014