Bing & Ruth: City Lake
This latest release of Bing & Ruth's City Lake brings with it a fascinating back story. After mistakenly receiving an unmarked test pressing of the group's debut album from the vinyl manufacturer five years ago, RVNG Intl. reached out to the outfit's principal member, David Moore, to initiate a relationship that would result in the release of the group's 2014 sophomore effort Tomorrow Was the Golden Age. But not only was the debut album (initially issued on Happy Talk) not exiled to the dustbin of history, it's been resurrected for re-release in a newly remastered and expanded form.
Bing & Ruth is described as a minimalist ensemble that stylistically suggests ties to Arvo Part, John Cage, and especially Steve Reich, but there's nothing minimalistic about the instrumental resources Moore draws upon for his pieces. On City Lake, eleven individuals participate: clarinetists Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner, cellists Greg Heffernan and Leigh Stuart, vocalists Becca Stevens and Jean Rohe, bassist Jeff Ratner, lap-steel player Myk Freedman, percussionist Chris Berry, Moore on piano, and tape-delay engineer Mike Effenberger.
The group's neo-orchestral sound is in place from the opening moment, with “Broad Channel” easing the listener in and delicate waves of piano, woodwinds, and strings providing a ruminative scene-setter for the recording's adventurous journey (the piece is later reprised in a paired form with “A Little Line in a Round Face” and in a solo piano version as the last of three bonus tracks). The early morning tone of the opener is complemented by music of greater physicality in some of the tracks that follow. With wordless, pitch-shifting vocals and drum-brushed percussion augmenting the opener's soundworld, “Put Your Weight Into It” works itself into a controlled fever that will eventually culminate in a full-force caterwaul of roaring dissonance during the second half of “City Lake / Tu Sei Uwe”; Moore clearly isn't shy about unleashing the more furious side of his project, considering the wail the band can get up to. Yet while there is that side, Bing & Ruth is also capable of playing with exceptional restraint and sensitivity, as shown by the group's nuanced rendering of “And Then it Rained,” a somnolent tone poem executed at a glacial tempo, and the equally painterly opening section of “City Lake / Tu Sei Uwe.” Moore clearly has an especially soft spot for the style, given that it also infuses the impressionistic piano meditation “Here's What You're Missin” and the bonus setting “In This Ruined House.”That Reich influence, by the way, is clearly felt, not just in the seemingly overt nod in “Rails” to “Clapping Music” but generally in Moore's piano playing, which appears heavily informed by the minimalism tradition, and in the music's supple clarinet and cello textures. With three bonus tracks factored in, the reissue certainly offers an in-depth introduction for anyone coming to the Brooklyn-based ensemble for the first time.