Matthew Paris :: Xiccarph :: View topic - Blaise Siwula’s new CDs
Blaise Siwula’s new CDs
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Matthew Paris
 

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Post Sat Jan 24, 2004 5:03 pm - Blaise Siwula’s new CDs
Lately I’ve listened to two CDs, Tandem Rivers and Orange Bird and Pink Bat-Sague, showing two of the many sides of Blaise Siwula, one of our New York musical geniuses now living in Brooklyn. They can be purchased at info@art.cappucanonet.com.
Every Siwula album is different and surprising. Some are closer to New Music, others are more in the style of free jazz of the 60s. The Orange Bird album has a kind of floating quality somewhere in between various kinds of Asian music and written out Mallarme-Ravel kind of surrealism that one can hear expressed in the pilgrimages into the exquisite of Boulez and Babbitt.
To mention these pigeonholes doesn’t really do justice to the seamless authority of his musical style in all modes or the lack of clichés and banality in anything Blaise Siwula touches. The music has something ahistorical and improbable about it like the elegant idiom of Gabriel Faure or the quests for a faraway L’Isle Joyeuse in Fragonard, Debussy or Ravel.
Adam Lane on bass in the Tandem Rivers album brings a wide ranging and inventive counterpoint to the reed voicings with their sustained notes that sets the presumptive theatre for the music in a classical post-free jazz and New Music theatre. It’s wonderful to hear how well he listens as well as plays; he is a real partner in a duet of remotely high and low melodic niches in which the fluidly mutable rhythms are as much set by one partner as the other. Lane certainly doesn’t relegate himself to an accompanist; he takes advantage of the natural abysses between the ranges of the instruments to offer in an ensemble built for extreme contrast extremely clear lines a true, sometimes whimsical polyphony.
Ge-Su Yeo, the vocalist with a transparent sound on the Orange Bird Alum, is a colorist as a singer whose range is within the compass of the reeds; since there is no bottom as there is in Tandem Rivers one sees more percussive and rhythmic work in the reed sound, something at which Blaise Siwula is a master. He makes the keys hitting the instrument audibly and gets some tone from the air going though the holes into the normal direction of breath in the reeds into their bell. It’s subtle stuff. There is n a kind of ghostly quality to Geo-Su’s flawless singing produced without vibrato which floats though this duet like one of those Asiatic scroll paintings which go on forever. The insubstantial character to the bottom and top creates an irony from a statement that is both openended and yet offers a design in the middle of infinity.

Both these CDs have a compact and austere integrity that makes them very different from the dense and heavily complex sound the last century produced in its final decades both in jazz and classical music; it is far from the harsh intervals that sometimes claimed to be expressive when they were most impersonally slavish to a fashionable communal depression. Blaise Siwula’s music is most often measured and delicate even when it is most energetic. It has repose. It is designed, lacking in feral desperation, a homage to civil patterns in a civilized universe. Yet he takes up a very focused inquiry into cosmic tapestries that ask justly for our intense attention.
How he does it I don’t know. One can never explain talent; it is the half of musical criticism which nobody writes or can write. We can’t do more than identify a gift; otherwise it baffles us. Blaise Siwula has it.
Thus he becomes one more mystery among many including the beauty of adolescents and starlets to bewilder a listener with an attractiveness that is beyond one’s ken. One can say a few things that may or may not at least illuminate the surrounding geography. Blaise Siwula is multi-talented, plays several instruments, is a visual artist as well, hails from Michigan, has an MFA, has played often with Cecil Taylor among others. Like his music these signposts aren’t ways of mentioning more than a few substantial points of departure. Plenty of people could have had the same background and be lousy.
Much of his music rests on pillars of real or implied tonality, a wonderfully insinuating counterpoint and fluid ostinato in ensemble which delights the ear, a stretch of conventional elements that never lose their roots in tradition no matter how extended the harmony might be from its tonal base. His jazz moorings are very clear; one hears occasionally odd echoes of Sidney Bechet, another multi-instrumentalist in a sudden wide vibrato on the same instruments, soprano sax and clarinet, Bechet mostly played.
Blaise Siwula both writes and improvises, speaking of his region as a proper “grey area” he wants to occupy. Improvisation at its worst tend to wander and lack the logic, however boring, of the effects of one competent written out Academic composition scribbled by a drudge on tenure, itself hardly worth listening to yet, like a CPA, respectable. At its best improvisation is a lightning rod of ideas from other worlds that flit from player to player.
On these CDs one sees his talent in particular for finding the right Euclidean counterpart for his personal language to ensemble voices both from Heaven and Earth. His single note instruments sometimes imply much less any vertical intervals laid out in linear form than take up an exploration of realms where pure melody with the barest of implied harmony or none at all can lead one armed with something like his gifts.
In the end one is given by his music all kinds of insight into the pure possibilities of melody. What does that exploration take up? Certainly fluidity and analyses resource in alchemically changing rhythm, avoidance of repetition yet enough of it to create design by backward reference while one is simultaneous moving forward, a surprising timbre coloring a melodic line to give it an emotional turn, once a tonal center is designed or implied various vertical relations of the melody to it give it a whispered language of remoteness or consonance.

The mixtures of staccato, portamento and legato that reflect anything from the confessional or florid to the laconic, most importantly, since we hear most instruments as extensions of human vocal sound, the way parts of a larger melody are rased through a subtle rubato to emphasize certain clusters of notes played linearly as through they were a peroration in a line.
I would guess that keyboard and string players generally think differently about music than wind players or singers. One set of musicians can produce harmonies simultaneously with the melodic line that color the musical language, even create two or more lines that interweave with each other in a way that can prop up a melody that needs help with intriguing harmony or counterpoint.
The second group of musicians lives or dies as the persuasiveness of a single melodic line. The music is inherently more primal. One could for a million years with one’s own voice do it anywhere among the gaping Neanderthals. The first group are more linked to a culture that has the means to produce their more dense and complex vertical language, that can make something like a synthesizer that may imitate furniture in our memory, yet on a deep level has no analogue whatsoever in the available craft of the remote past.
One of the nice things in Blaise Siwula’s fluent and resourceful melodies is the mix of free jazz, New Music and Asian music language that colors his lines at a further remove than mere harmony. He cultivates a breathy sound at times that sounds like a blend of the pure musical statement and something like wind. The total effect is music that blend in a super-string theory way into the place and world it is being made. He also takes from New Music delicate percussive effects that are like a thoughtful corollary to the more traditional ways of making a musical statement with reeds.
There are also discreet and subtle microtones in this music less obvious than jazz bending of notes, flattening them very slightly as if emotionally they were shy or circumspect. Centrally the emphasis on melody, the risk of that ultimate linear focus, is counterpoised by an elegance and detachment that is like a mirror image of a sapphire looking at itself infinitely.
I would recommend both these albums for all sorts of reasons, the superficial one that they are great to listen to again and again, the more esoteric possibility that his at once infinitely fluid and formally designed musical language might set off a comparable pilgrimage into the uses of melody in the listener. It could be an exploration of his own worth the trek.
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