Erdem Helvacioglu & Ros Bandt: Black Falcon
It's fitting that Ros Bandt's tarhu is the first sound one hears on her collaborative venture with guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu, as the instrument's mournful cry is the one that makes the deepest impression on this powerful recording. Not that that is intended to take anything away from Helvacioglu's contribution, as his presence is equally critical to the artistic success of Black Falcon. But he often adopts the role of sound colourist here, such that it's his textures that provide an anchoring support for Bandt's emotional extemporizations. The musicians are truly kindred spirits here, with the two unitedly navigating the emotional peaks and valleys of its compositional journeys. That this is the case is all the more remarkable given that Black Falcon was recorded in Istanbul in a single day and that five of the seven pieces were improvised (the term they give to the improvisation process is “Momentary Composition”).
While the Turkish composer Helvacioglu produces crystalline, electronics-enhanced layers of guitar-generated sound, the Australian Bandt plays the tarhu, a long-necked, four-stringed instrument that transfers its strings vibrations to a featherweight wooden cone suspended from its body (the instrument was created for her by Australian luthier Peter Biffin). Thematically speaking, Black Falcon is intended as a lament for an endangered species, and the music's character is often in keeping with that theme. As such, the tarhu is an ideal vehicle for expressing such emotions with its voice able to alternate in a moment between aggressive outpourings and pleas of desperation. Just as the black falcon swoops gracefully in pursuit of prey, so too do the musicians soar in tandem across the album's material. It's also worth noting that the musicians aren't intent on romanticizing the falcon's nature by downplaying its predatory nature, and consequently the sounds the two generate are rarely pastoral and peaceful (“Moment of Delicacy” comes closest to being so) but more typically raw, even wild. Theirs is not a sanitized portrait of nature and neither is their collective sound. There are more than a few passages where Bandt bows with violent fury and where Helvacioglu's guitar playing threatens to erupt (e.g., “Flow of Victory”). His Turkish background comes to the fore during the brief solo setting, “Game Country,” and the washes he produces elsewhere (during “Circle Around the Shadows,” for example) provide an expansive bed for Bandt to emote against.
There's little gained in trying to pin the music down with a single label; it's not jazz or classical, and, being so clear in its focus is free of the meander that sometimes characterizes improv. Consequently, the album's pieces ultimately register as luminous, free-standing explorations by two deeply in-sync players.