Gareth Davis & Frances-Marie Uitti: Gramercy

Gramercy takes the unusual step of pairing the cello artistry of Frances-Marie Uitti with the clarinet playing of Gareth Davis. It's an inspired concept that has brought into physical form an hour-long collection of shadowy explorations. One of the recording's clearest selling-points is the fundamental timbral contrast between the instruments. No matter how closely intertwined the two players become, there's always a clear separation between the cello, especially when Uitti utilizes her twin bow technique, and the woodsy, breath-laden tone of Davis's woodwind.

The recording shows the two to be simpatico partners; both are bold and confident players, individually comfortable inhabiting the spotlight but content in this case to adopt roles of equal prominence. In short, neither one is the primary soloist; instead, they both play freely yet with an awareness of and sensitivity to what the other is doing. As a result, the album's seven pieces play like entirely spontaneous improvisations, despite the fact that a nachtmusik mood predominates, that also manage to sidestep labels. It's not classical music, in other words, no matter the cello's strong association with the classical genre, and it's even less jazz or electronica.

“2 am” opens the album with five mournful minutes, while the duo's ghostlier side comes forth during “Cold Call” when the sounds Davis generates are more breath streams than conventional clarinet playing. Two long-form pieces in particular invite comment. The twenty-one-minute “Detour” pushes the explorative spirit of the recording to its logical extreme when the two fashion a deeply atmospheric setting characterized by a multitude of cello scrapes and bowings and clarinet croaks and flutter. Interestingly, the playing falls on the restrained side of the fence for much of the piece, with only the last four minutes finding the two unleashing a more aggressive attack. “Stained” spends the first half of its fourteen minutes in a rather somnambulant state, with the pair focused more on low-level moodsculpting, until the tide briefly turns for some wilder playing. The episode lasts but a few moments, however, before Uitti and Davis again retreat into an even quieter realm where the sounds grow so faint they almost disappear. It bears worth noting that the vinyl version of the recording includes two side D bonus tracks.

April 2012