Michael Jon Fink: From a Folio
Cold Blue

Thomas Newman and Rick Cox: 35 Whirlpools Below Sound
Cold Blue

Precisely how far Thomas Newman and Rick Cox's 35 Whirlpools Below Sound distances itself from Cold Blue's other releases becomes most vividly apparent midway through the album when “Mort” evokes a muffled soundworld reminiscent of the mutant ones trumpeter Jon Hassell conjured with Brian Eno on Fourth World Vol. 1 in 1980 and by himself on Dream Theory In Malaya shortly thereafter (interestingly, Cox has appeared on recent Hassell recordings, including Maarifa Street and Fascinoma). In itself, that shouldn't come as too great a surprise to those acquainted with the many recordings Cox has issued on Cold Blue. A no doubt familiar name to devotees of the West Coast label, the LA-based composer and innovative multi-instrumentalist jointly composed the album's nineteen settings with Thomas Newman, himself well known as a soundtrack composer for films such as American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, and The Horse Whisperer. 35 Whirlpools Below Sound is hardly the first time Cox and Newman have collaborated: in a working relationship that extends back to 1985, Newman has performed Cox's music as a pianist on three previous Cold Blue CDs, while Cox has contributed to many of Newman's film scores.

“Mort” is certainly not the only unusual piece on this eclectic collection of rich electroacoustic soundscapes, which features Cox on cello, Xaphoon, prepared guitar, and vocals, Newman on piano, phase metals, toy accordion, and violin, and Jeff Elmassian on clarinet. Each setting, it seems, traverses enigmatic territory, and though they are short, they still manage to explore multiple zones within a single piece. The opening “A Well Staring at the Sky” illustrates as much in the way it scatters fragments of accordion, piano, and music box playing across nature-based field recordings during its three minutes. “Slate Overture,” on the other hand, plays like a recording of subterranean geological activity, what with its relentless burbling and steel-edged textures, while “Smith's Arcade” and “Eyes of Blue” are dominated by woozy acoustic piano shards and haunted violin scrapes, respectively. Perhaps the most experimental of the pieces is “Carapace,” which is characterized by a hyperactive flow of stuttering sound treatments and voice snippets. Throughout the hour-long release, wondrous, fairy tale-like dreamscapes (“Goldmine Nectarine,” “Paper Thin”) rub shoulders with murky ambient-drone evocations (“Ashland Schine,” “Venice Mule,” “Stair”) that rumble with mysterious portent. Admittedly, the shape-shifting character of the release makes it a hard one to pin down, but to its credit it offers no shortage of stimulation and surprise.

Michael Jon Fink's From a Folio uses simpler means to achieve its ends but is no less effective for doing so. A CD single of eighteen minutes duration, the recording presents a suite of six exquisite miniatures for cello and piano, with the LA-based composer Fink on piano joined by wild Up and gnarwhallaby member Derek Stein, as well as an additional piece for six cellos. The opening “Invocation” sets the tone for the release with haunting melody lines voiced in unison by the duo, Fink's evocative neo-classical music gracefully rising and falling and characterized by delicacy in its execution. Pensive and ethereal by comparison, “Hieroglyph” follows, after which “Melos” unfolds with a controlled lyricism that nevertheless packs a powerful emotional punch. Like all of the settings, “Aftersong” is brief yet still long enough for Stein's multi-layered cellos to dramatically swell and leave a strong mark on the listener. There's an emotional and expressive arc to the release that becomes discernible over the course of its seven pieces, with the music slowly building in intensity and then decompressing as it works through its closing pieces. As striking as Stein's solo set-piece “Aftersong” is, it's the piano-cello duets that satisfy the most on this elegant set.

November 2014