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philip gelb | between / waves

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Philip Gelb

Between/Waves
Sparkling Beatnik / SBR0006

Philip Gelb / shakuhachi, Pauline Oliveros / accordion, conch, Jon Raskin / saxophones, Dana Reason / piano, Chris Brown / electronics

Two tracks showcasing Gelb’s shakuhachi alongside, on the one hand, Oliveros, Raskin and Reason and, on the other, Chris Brown. The results are very different, both from one another and from the excellent trio CD Indistancing (released earlier this year) in which Gelb played a part.

The first piece, the quartet, has a feel which is familiar from other Oliveros projects. It begins as a quiet, spacious environment in which the group bounce little sounds around, growing into something more dynamic as the ideas develop. All four musicians seem determined not to over-play; at the outset, this inevitably leads to some moments of uncertainty. What’s gratifying, however, is that the interaction between these players — often in fleeting duos or trios rather than as a quartet — quickly firms up, and just gets better as the piece goes on. Nothing hangs around for long, but if the journey is aimless, that’s surely part of the point. The pleasure is in the sights one sees along the way, after all.

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Philip Gelb

Just for Oliveros’ light-fingered accordion, this track is worth the hearing, but Gelb’s resolutely non-Japanese shakuhachi is also a pleasure. Reason spends much of her time sitting out, but that’s no crime, and when she does come in she does so in a clear and decisive way. Raskin is harder to nail down because his tactic seems to be one of augmenting the surrounding music, perhaps because he blends so well with Oliveros and Gelb. In all, it’s a very pleasant journey indeed.

For the final eighteen minutes, Gelb changes pace by way of a duet with Chris Brown. The latter has a composer credit, so presumably some of his electronics are pre-programmed to give a shape to the piece. They’re very effective; shimmering, dubby textures for the most part, cunningly transforming themselves and zipping around the stereo field. He also processes Gelb’s shakuhachi, which is sounding a little more traditional on this session.

These effects consist mainly of heavy echo and reverb, which can lend the music a TV-soundtrack sheen, but this is hardly academic electroacoustics anyway. The glossiness of Brown’s music comes to fruition in the Schutze-like rhythm which develops about halfway in and never really goes away thereafter. It’s not without the odd miss-step — a generic 4/4 rhythm on a rather tinny tambourine sound threatens to overstay its welcome at one point — but then one has to accept that, for all its atonality and often harsh textures, this piece owes more than a little to acid jazz and even trip hop. Yes, the connection is tenuous, but you could certainly dance to the last half of this track even if it wouldn’t go down to well with your average blunted beat-head.

There’s something terribly likeable about this approach which will have you playing the track again and again. Plus, although he gives Brown plenty of elbow rom, Gelb is on magnificent form here. People will approach this record for all sorts of reasons — for Oliveros, for the electronics, for the Japanese connection (which is pretty distant), for Reason herself, who has built up a reputation of her own — but it’s hard not to enjoy it whatever you’re looking for. That’s not to imply that either piece is a lightweight offering, but there is a good-natured sense of the pleasure of playing running through this music which is extremely contagious. Richard Cochrane