loadbang: Lungpowered
New Focus Recordings

With many a classical recording, whether it be one featuring traditional or contemporary works, part of the critical process involves assessing the balance between two aspects: the performers and the works performed. Without wishing to take anything away from the composers whose works are presented on Lungpowered, it's loadbang that's clearly the primary focal point on this release. The explanation is simple: if there's another ensemble comprised of a bass clarinetist, trumpeter, trombonist, and baritone vocalist, I've yet to hear of it. The NY-based quartet has premiered more than 200 works since its 2008 inception, many by the members of loadbang and others by the likes of Charles Wuorinen, David Lang, Eve Beglarian, Andy Akiho, and Nick Didkovsky. On this particular release, works by Alexandre Lunsqui, Scott Worthington, Alex Mincek, David Brynjar Franzson, Reiko Füting, and loadbang member William Lang are presented.

Another thing that differentiates the group from others of its kind is its propensity for improvisation, something of a rarity for a musical realm associated with formal notation. Without wishing to take anything away from Carlos Cordeiro (bass clarinet), Andy Kozar (trumpet), and Lang (trombone), it's the vocalizing of baritone Jeffrey Gavett that is loadbang's main distinguishing feature. His contributions also stand out for the fact that he often doesn't sing conventional lyrics but instead deploys a range of unusual vocal techniques. Consistent with the album title, loadbang's acoustic sound is bodily-generated; its music is also typically intimate in tone and restrained in volume though not uninteresting, especially when the sounds the four generate dovetail so seamlessly. It's not uncommon for one person to complete the phrasing of another or for one instrument to mimic a fellow member's staccato stutter. Instruments sometimes play in unison; at other times their phrases collide in rapid motion and then splinter off in other directions. Though only four elements might be in play, their interactions are complex and unpredictable, suggestive of a group that's spent many hours rehearsing.

In Lunsqui's opening Guttural, instrument fragments replicate Gavett's syllabic utterances and guttural expressions. With the compositional focus on microtonality and severe reduction, Worthington's four-part Infinitive exudes a strong late-Stravinsky flavour, something along the lines of 1964's Elegy for J.F.K. In contrast to the sober tone of Worthington's piece, Mincek's Number May Be Defined is playful in spirit, even at times subtly jazz-tinged, whereas Franzson's Longitudinal Study #1 simulates the slow rise of wind and geological processes (for that matter, the sounds could just as easily pass for the amplified snoozing of a human being). Lang's Alvin Lucier-inspired There Might Be One More ends the recording on a surprising note with the four members setting their usual instruments aside for harmonicas. As left-turn a move as it might seem, it's in keeping with loadbang's character in using the bodily processes of inhalation and exhalation as the source for the piece's resonant sound world.

January 2016