Pillars and Tongues: Protection

Though Pillars and Tongues' approach is characterized as “spontaneous composition,” the forty-seven minutes of music on Protection sound anything but unstructured. Listening to the serpentine paths the compositions follow, one concludes that the Chicago , Illinois trio—Evan Hydzik, Elizabeth Remis, and Mark Treck—is either supernaturally telepathic or, at the very least, brought to the recording some degree of familiarity to the recording's material. The three longer pieces (each fourteen minutes in length) especially must have been mapped out to some extent while allowing ample room for the group and its guests to maneuver. Pillars and Tongues specializes in a nomadic, soul-searching style whose interplay comfortably extends itself into improvisatory realms infused by the spirits of free jazz, psychedelic folk, and drone ambient. Though the group's formally a trio, in truth Protection showcases to an equal and sometimes greater degree the contributions of guest musicians.

The see-sawing groan of Hydzik's double bass and Remis's violin inaugurates “Hall Of Bliss” which, when joined by percussive pounding, could pass for a folk meditation resurrected from the 18th century. The croak of Douglas Tesnow's bass clarinet jumpstarts “Dead Sings” after which Trecka's harmonica and vocals alternate over a slow, double bass-prodded vamp that grows steadily turbulent until it explodes into a freewheeling psych-folk jam. The storm soon subsides, however, and the musicians settle into a long-form ambient drone episode that allows the bass clarinet's wheeze and the violin's pizzicato tumble to come forth before ultimately expiring. “Protection (I)” begins mournfully with the repetition of an elegiac string theme accompanied by atmospheric bell tinkling, percussive punctuation, bass clarinet and flute interjections, and a monotone, incantatory vocal section. The piece entropically reaches a point of stasis before Tesnow's bass clarinet and Keelin Mayer's flute take the lead and re-animate the others as they make their way home, eventually returning to the string theme with which the piece began. “Protection (II)” opens in a bluesy frame of mind and thereafter segues through multiple episodes—vocal and instrumental—of contrasting character with Mayer's flute again a prominent voice.

Throughout the album, the poise with which the collective sustains the music's slow drift and navigates the mood transitions is often remarkable and testifies to the simpatico mindset shared by the players. Protection is obviously not a “commercial” release in the conventional sense of the word but it's definitely quality music-making that deserves to be heard. With so much dreck clogging the collective airwaves, some room should be made to accommodate explorers of Pillars & Tongues' ilk.

November 2008