Music correlating to physicality gives it a fertile meaning, a meaning that lifts it out of its abstract plane into a zone that is identifiable. Listening becomes more than moving through time; it becomes a process of imagination and fulfillment.
Drummer Bobby Previte and guitarist Charlie Hunter have interpreted three descriptors of the earth in a trilogy of releases. Latitude came in 2004, Longitude in 2005, and now Altitude in 2007, all on Thirsty Ear. The first two were true to their names. The music negotiated its way on a sonic surface. The orientation and interaction of the instruments projected a purposeful flatness and direction.
On Altitude, however, Previte and Hunter have completely altered their perspective and are looking up and down. They have all the room in the world to move their improvisation on this two CD issue, and they also have John Medeski on keyboards and a host of other instruments, to help them in their venture.
On the first CD, all the tracks are named after structures reputed to be the tallest on the planet. Mt. Everest is the only natural geographical occurrence named in the seven titles. How the character of the music plays out often has to do with character of a particular structure.
For instance, the mood of "Taipei 101, which is a building in China over sixteen hundred feet tall, is an oriental one, illustrated in the persistence of a bouncing pulse, a whining line on the organ and a repeated offbeat riff on the guitar. "Pyramids of Giza methodically builds with a compelling march beat that supports a guitar and organ alternation which imitates the kind of dancing movement that only frontally depicted figures could perform. The low tones of a wooden flute-like instrument introduce a meditative tone for "Everest. The remaining tracks are equally as active in the portrayal of the titular subject. All the music, though, has a haunting other-world quality that is never quite direct and always distantly reverberant. The drums seem to be the only grounding element that exists.
On the second CD, the musicians take a careful breath and dive into endlessly mysterious seas, and circumnavigate the caverns and cliffs, topographical nodules and energy swirls, all of which populate the oceans. The music loses most of the electronics and stays acoustic. The drumming is atmospheric and sometimes unrelentingly repetitious. The guitar and piano cling to specific pitches, pizzicati, phrases and chords that rise and fall through the brief cuts as metaphors for movement through empty reservoirs, vast expanses of water, the endurance of intense pressure and final settlement in the deepest depths on earth. Where there is no escape except into the acceptance of the last gasp that could mean eternal peace.
Altitude boasts a sonic richness that tells a 21st century story: how we teeter on the edge between artifice rising from human ingenuity and a natural ever-changing symbiosis in an environment where sometimes the only land is too far below us to see.
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