August 27, 2020
Alexander Hawkins-Tomeka Reid
Shards and Constellations
Intakt Records CD 344
Ayman Fanous/Frances-Marie Uitti
Expressing simpatico stimulus these cello-centred duos reach a similar apex of free-flowing inspiration, although arriving from contrasting starting points. Although both have worked with improvisers such as Bern Nix, Elliott Sharp, Mark Dresser and Agustí Fernández, American cellist Frances-Marie Uitti and Egyptian-American guitarist/ bouzouki player Ayman Fanous are more identified with New music and a variant of so-called World Music respectively, while American cellist Tomeka Reid and British pianist Alexander Hawkins are firmly in the Jazz-improvised music tradition, having both worked with Anthony Braxton, Hawkins with the likes of Louis Moholo-Moholo and Reid is a member of the AACM.
Still what appears most obvious on the surface can be deceptive. Among the Shards and Constellations for instance are variations on tunes by AACM mentors Muhal Richard Abrams and Leroy Jenkins plus eight instant compositions. Meanwhile Negoum, which means stars in Arabic, negotiates faint non-Western and chromatic music inferences plus extended techniques into nine singular improvisations.
Fanous’ traditional sounding, but actually unorthodox, approach to playing the three-course bouzouki adds a Greco-Turkish shimmer to the tracks on which it’s featured, starting with the 16¼ -minute “Adhara”. But as his surging timbres intersect but do not harmonize with the cello, surging continuum is divided as synchronic accents from Uitti’s two bows pluck heavier thrusts and focused glissandi against Fanous’ dissected fails. These torqued detours alternate with sequences in which surging strums from the plectrumist or vibrating pushes from the cellist create an unbroken continuum. The concluding “Nekkar” is the other instance of this two-bow-bouzouki mash-up, but with brighter textures. It mostly depends on a gradual thickening of the exposition propelled by Fanous’s twanging and Uitti string surges.
Still, the two can also create an undulating narrative as Uitti, using her two bows to create a simple motif beside Famous’ simple chording, does so on tunes like “Zaurac”. Finally the collaboration reaches penultimate showcases on “Alnitac” and “Rasalased”, where flamenco-like strokes from either of Fanous’ instruments ferociously move forward with bent note pinches as Uitti does the same with spiccato jerks and stabs from only one bow. Yet the most intriguing duet is the extended “Aloch”, which may be mislabeled as “Megrez” in the booklet. Here ringing plectrum pressure emphasizing non-Western licks insinuates the timbres alongside warm two-bow cello string expansions. As the line is stretched to become higher-pitched, intensity is doubled until the results are vibrated into a string-slapping finale.
Introducing another string (and keys) set to a cello duo produces an improvisational variant on the other CD. Unlike the Arabic titles on Negoum, Hawkins’ and Reid’s cuts are named almost literally so that a track like “Serene and Playful” sounds exactly as imagined with gentleness that signals it’s involved with mood not movement; while “Danced Together” with its swinging piano arpeggios and bass clef pumps from the cello, attains the swing groove promised. At the same time, “Strange Familiar” could serve as a metaphor not only for the performance on that track, but for many others as well. As the two players squeak across the exposition with slick piano vibrations and sprawling cello loops, the effect is both conversational and craggy. Overall it would appear that “strange” and “familiar” are equally balanced so that expected patterns are given a newness to make them innovative.
That means for instance that a track like “A Guess That Deepens” wraps the atonality of scouring sul tasto from Reid’s resonating strings with clanking piano rhythm that concludes with a double-time Blues. While the beginning of “Sung Together” which features hand-stopped piano key plinks and strained rubs from the tightly would cello strings dissolves into a congenial melody that with power throbs its way to Bebop affiliations.
The AACM covers are telling as well. A moody requiem, Jenkins’ “Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short)” matches church-like harmonies from the piano with solemn multi-string swells that in a muted ambulatory fashion manage to suggest the secular-spiritual duality that was Ayler. “Peace on You” by Abrams is also the CD’s longest track during which the two deftly skim the melody from degenerating into ECM-like prettiness. Although echoing with perfectly rounded pops from the cello and pacific comping from the piano, metronomic patterning and tremolo glissandi finally unite the story-telling into unison counterpoint.
Inventive formulas and cerebral cooperation involving two sets of linked string instruments show what can be accomplished in duo form as musical strands are united in unique fashions.
Track Listing: Negoum 1. Adhara 2. Alnilam 3. Caph; 4. Alnitac 5. Megrez 6. Alioth 7. Zaurac 8. Rasalased 9. Nekkar
Personnel: Negoum: Ayman Fanous (classical guitar and bouzouki) and Frances-Marie Uitti (cello w. 1 or 2 bow)
Track Listing: Shards: 1. If Becomes Is 2. Shards and Constellations 3. Danced Together 4. Sung Together 5. Peace on You 6. Strange Familiar 7. A Guess That Deepens 8. Serene and Playful 9. Albert Ayler (His Life Was Too Short) 10. Is Becomes If
Personnel: Shards: Alexander Hawkins (piano) and Tomeka Reid (cello)