Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ambiguous music


Digital culture hates ambiguity. What could be less ambiguous than a binary digit, a YouTube promotional video or the 44.1kHz sampling rate of a CD? What could be less ambiguous than the last X Factor winner or the next André Rieu album? What could be less ambiguous than consensus culture where power lies not with the individual but with the commercial/intermediary complex?

Creativity loves ambiguity. Ambiguous overtones, not precisely defined fundamentals, give music its uniqueness, and it is no coincidence that ambiguous music is currently producing the most creative sounds. But not the contrived ambiguity of musical tourism. Rather, the spontaneous ambiguity of musicians who could not give a damn that their latest album eludes capture in 140 characters. Like Allos Musica's new CD in fact.

Lamentations is an exercise in ambiguity. Allos Musica, which is led by Chicago based clarinettist and composer James Falzone, is a flexible ensemble that changes its instrumentation from project to project. For their new disc Allos Musica comprises James Falzone with Ronnie Malley on oud and vocals and Tim Mulvenna on hand drums and percussion, and they mix Falzone's original compositions with collective improvisations based on Arabic musical forms such as the longa and muwashah. There is also a nod to Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem and a shimmering continuo of Messiaen indebted musique chatoyante.

In his sleeve note James Falzone talks of a lament as a "longing for change in a world I often do not understand" and elsewhere expresses concerns about Western involvement in the Middle East. Unambiguous concepts such as classical or world music, autocracy or democracy, Eastern or Western, good or evil, Christian or Muslim, and winning and losing are central to a binary culture. Let us hope Lamentations is the pre-echo of a move away from dualism towards a more ambiguous and more inclusive future.


Lamentations was supplied as a requested review sample and my thanks go to Scott Menhinick at Improvised Communications for responding to a request from far away across the ocean. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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