itsnotyouitsme: This I
This I is the second release featuring violinist/composer Caleb Burhans to have seen the light of day in recent months, with his own Evensongs having preceded the latest itsnotyouitsme release by only a month or so. They're dramatically different recordings, however: while Burhans does play on Evensongs, it's first and foremost a portrait of him as a composer; This I, on the other hand, is very much a portrait of Burhans the player and improviser—not to mention that it's a collaborative project as well, specifically one shared between Burhans and guitarist Grey Mcmurray.
The New York-based musicians have been playing together since 2003, and the rapport they've developed is clearly evident on their fourth recording—walled gardens, fallen monuments, and everybody's pain is magnificent the others—under the itsnotyouitsme name. The forty-eight-minute recording's six indexed tracks were culled from one continuous performance, and it sounds like it. In place of formal through-composed pieces, This I presents material that unfolds like thoughtful, well-considered improvs, with the four musicians—bassist Skúli Sverrisson and vocalist Theo Bleckmann joining in this time around—communing deeply with one another (it's telling that all four share composing credits on the release).
Burhans and Mcmurray augment their violin and guitar playing with live processing (as do Sverrisson and Bleckmann), which enables them to generate dense textural masses as grounds over which they're able to add further layers. Melody is largely downplayed for texture and atmosphere in these settings, resulting in six immersive and ever-shifting landscapes of instrumental richness. Wordless voices, violin phrases, and shuddering guitar washes interweave organically in settings that encompass a range of moods and styles, from spectral and haunted (“If the Ground is Covered, Are We Still Outside?”) to uplifting and plaintive (“Sometimes it's Hard Being Alive Seeing the Bright Stars in the Sky”). Over the course of its eleven-minute run, “The You Since Me” methodically builds from a peaceful ambient soundscape into a repeatedly surging and somewhat nightmarish mass of violent, razor-sharp convulsions, whereas a subtle air of supplication seeps into “Things Past Are Pretty Now,” its hymnal quality bolstered by the presence of soft vocal expressions and Sverrisson's bass playing.
Timbral contrasts between the violin and guitar help distinguish the album's material, especially when Burhans' playing separates itself so clearly from the textural masses generated by the latter. But what the listener takes away from the album is less the impression of individual voices and more an appreciation for how the four contributors blend their fundamentally heterogeneous sounds into a homogenous whole.