Pianist/electronics artist/composer Cory Smythe's Pyroclastic Records debut Circulate Susanna (2018) was a tongue-in-cheek attribution to the inspiration of a fictional event. He returns to the Kris Davis run label with the intriguing, socially-conscious and genre-less Accelerate Every Voice. Inspired by an assortment of sources: Andrew Hill's Lift Every Voice (Blue Note, 1970), the work of Harlem Renaissance poet and early NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson, and the a cappella art form and its sociological duality.
Smythe is an outstanding instrumentalist with wide-ranging compositional experience. His jazz credits include work with Anthony Braxton, Vijay Iyer and Tyshawn Sorey, and he has performed with classical violinist Hilary Hahn at the Kennedy Center. Smythe won a Grammy in 2015 for Best Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance. In 2016 he performed with Craig Taborn and Peter Evans as part of the Lincoln Center Mostly Mozart series. Smythe has recorded two solo albums on Not Art Records: Pluripotent (2011) and A U T O TROPHS (2017).
Accelerate Every Voice consists of eight relatively compact experiments followed by a nearly twenty-minute ambient piece. The opening piece "Northern Cities Vowel Shift" sets up a loose framework for the majority of these compositions. Highly textured, wordless vocals from Kyoko Kitamura, Michael Mayo, Raquel Acevedo Klein, Steven Hrycelak and Kari Francis, veering between vocalese and anguish. Mayo doubles on a looper, Hrycelak, on bass, and Francis, percussion, while Smythe layers on piano and electronics. The fierce vocal turbulence of the title track is compounded by Smythe's multiple keyboards allowing for a wider range of pitches. The voices fall away early on "Marl Every Voice," giving way to melodic piano passages, then quiet, and finally a blending of electronics and keyboards. Given the contrasting meditative nature of the extended "Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation," Smythe does an admirable job of bridging the complex and the unassuming elements of his music.
Smythe explains his fascination with the history of a cappella as a type of American bright-siding whose early fundamentals are personified in the race-based imperialism of poet Rudyard Kipling. Smythe explains in press materials that the vocal style may be a "poisoned-by-whiteness American kind of optimism." However, the abstract nature of Accelerate Every Voice doesn't show its political hand in listening without the benefit of an information pipeline. This is hard-to-explain, challenging music, and not like anything else. It should be given an unprejudiced listen.
Northern Cities Vowel Shift; Accelerate Every Voice; Marl Every Voice; Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture 1; Vehemently; Kinetic Whirlwind Sculpture 2; Knot Every Voice; Weatherproof Song; Piano and Ocean Waves for Deep Relaxation.
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