Matt Borghi & Michael Teager: Awaken the Electric Air: Live from Star's End
One of the biggest challenges facing musicians is finding a way to make their work stand out from others. To that end, Matt Borghi and Michael Teager's collaboration has a bit of a head start than most, given the nature of the instrumentation involved. Put simply, it's not unusual for a modern-day soundscaping project to include electric guitar and effects; it is, however, quite unusual for that to be coupled with saxophone and flute playing. Of course merely combining said sounds wouldn't amount to much if the music the two produced weren't compelling, but as the duo's latest outing shows, a live, fifty-five-minute set recorded at Star's End in Philadelphia on October 20, 2013, the music they create is compelling indeed.
Originating out of Michigan, Borghi, the guitarist in question, and Teager, the classically trained woodwinds player, seem tailor-made for live performance, given the opportunity it presents for long-form exploration. In the case of Awaken the Electric Air: Live from Star's End, that means four extended pieces, the shortest just under ten minutes and the longest tipping past eighteen. The opener “Bed of Ash | Coda” sets the tone with Borghi laying down textural washes against which Teager's tenor sax ruminates freely. Its sound altered via effects, the guitar assumes a synthesizer-like quality, its tones splintering into multiple layers and filling the air with reverb. In those moments where Borghi is heard alone (the opening minutes of “Convocation,” for example), the shimmering sound resonates so powerfully it begins to suggest the interior of some grandiose cathedral.
Their music has been described as ‘ambient space jazz,' and while that's not wholly off-the-mark it's a rather delimiting term for a borders-collapsing sound that unfolds so organically. In the case of “Bed of Ash | Coda” that translates into music that evolves through multiple episodes, some declamatory and others more melancholy. The album's title track perpetuates its predecessor's mood with a plaintive opening, once again the sky streaked with Borghi's painterly strokes and coloured with Teager's querulous expressions. Though the sax often adopts the role of lead instrument, there are moments when it's reduced to a purr that becomes secondary to the billowing guitar washes.As striking as all four of the pieces are, it's “Convocation” that perhaps leaves the strongest impression, simply due to how seamlessly Teager's flute playing blends with the whistling tones generated by the guitar. Putting the two elements together produces a sound that's ghostly and thus all the more haunting for being so. In its own unassuming way, Awaken the Electric Air: Live from Star's End could be seen as a triumph of sorts for Borghi and Teager, given how remarkable and superbly realized a creation it is. And though it includes new takes on selections from the duo's 2013 release Convocation, they're hardly retreads when the live renditions essentially transform them into new pieces. It's gripping stuff, no matter how you slice it.