Dec 10 2013
The beauty of the Swedish archipelago Ängsudden inspired visual artist MuKha. She began with a series of poems about this spot on the planet where the sky meets the sea with stunning visual images. MuKha wrote those poems in the Philippine Tagalog language associated with a small Palawan tribe, slowly disappearing. From there, she developed those poems into paintings. And those paintings inspired a new friend, clarinetist Mike McGinnis, who had recently moved to New York City from Maine, a place of visual beauty that connected with him not unlike the source of MuKha’s poems and paintings. That new generation of creativity resulted in the Ängsudden Song Cycle, McGinnis’s new album. It’s one of the more compelling album released in 2013.
Your album personnel: Kyoko Kitamura (voice), Mike McGinnis (clarinet, bass clarinet), Sara Schoenbeck (bassoon), Khabu Doug Young (cavaquiño), Sean Moran (acoustic guitar), Jason Kao Hwang (viola), Dan Fabricatore (bass), Harris Eisenstadt (percussion, vibraphone), and guests: Jun Kitamura (voice), Davalois Fearon (percussion), and MuKha (percussion).
These are the poems of MuKha put to music.
The album opens with the striking harmonic beauty of “You Were With Me.” Viola and bassoon transform from thick beautiful brush strokes into refracted harmonies. Kitamura’s voice begins with a sharp tongue, similar to the original disposition of the viola-bassoon duo, before she, too, undergoes the same transformation, slipping into a comforting tone, soft with her words. Viola and percussion continue to roil, simmering nervously.
It continues into “Last Night the Wind,” with viola and percussion agitated and urgent, and Kitamura’s words sometimes masked within the sonic cloud, sometimes rising above it. And then, like a sun lifting up over the horizon and dispelling the nighttime frights, McGinnis’s clarinet sends out warm notes, backed by a resurgent harmonics of Hwang’s viola and Moran’s acoustic guitar, which itself leads to the infectiously happy song “You Are Morning,” a tune bubbling over with unguarded enthusiasm… an anthem for the sun. Young’s cavaquiño’s rustic charm springs to life in this cheerful song.
“Encircled, Repeated” is a crosshatch of skittering sound and darting words. It’s not quite a dissonant sound, but it does serve as its precursor. “Even the Pillow” begins as a slasher movie soundtrack, with strings and guitar as the sharp ends of the blade and Fabricatore’s bass the ominous tolling of the arrival of doom. Eisenstadt contributes some icy vibraphone notes, which actually add warmth to a very cold song. Moran’s acoustic guitar notes meet those of the vibraphone as they splash against the ground, becoming puddles of indistinguishable melody. Bassoon and bass clarinet rise with warm harmonies above it all, though just briefly, before returning to the darker tones.
That harmonic beauty hinted at in the previous section comes back strong on “It’s Still Warm.” The sound of bassoon and vibes are heavenly, lifted up high by viola. Kitamura’s vocals are soft and inviting. Moran’s guitar like the glittering of stars, set against the enfolding darkness of Schoenbeck’s bassoon.
“You Said One Day” is a rare up-tempo piece, and it carries a simply defined melody on its shoulders. Eisenstadt’s contributions on the vibes continue to draw rewards. Kitamura and McGinnis engage in some wonderful interplay, as if joining hands and twirling about, existing outside the ongoing cadence.
Album ends with “We Ate the Wood.” Moran’s acoustic guitar leads out, sets the tone and keeps it there. Kitamura’s vocals walk beside Moran’s guitar along the same path, with the clarinet and bassoon and viola of McGinnis and Schoenbeck and Hwang sticking nearby, sending harmonic washes across interludes of silence.
This is one of those albums that, initially, presents itself as challenging, but after spending some time with it, becomes as easy to converse with as a very best friend. It’s also one of the most original works I’ve heard in 2013. And it’s always nice when a recording of such great differentiation is also so magnanimously personable.
Released on 482 Music.
Jazz from NYC.
Or you can buy the LP/CD pack directly from the label, at the 482 Music store.