In some ways one could liken Conduits to a telephone call between two friends, given that it was recorded simultaneously over the internet at the homes of baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and bassist Olie Brice who live some 60 miles apart in England. But, while the vibe is conversational, this being an instrumental exchange, it is as if both talk at once, pursue different subjects, and even go off at complete tangents. And it is all the better that they do. Even though as a spoken dialogue it would be dysfunctional, when such interaction is done well, as here, there is a particular joy in the constantly modulating tension between response and independence.
Yet, though both lead and write original charts for their own bandsRoberts heading up Sloth Racket and Brice his own quinteton this occasion they air their chops as improvisers on three pieces which total just a shade under half an hour. Given his role as a key component of freewheeling trios with the likes of reed players Tobias Delius, Mikolaj Trzaska and Rachel Musson or trumpeter Luis Vicente, it is no surprise that Brice so fully exploits the textures available to him, whether in purposeful pizzicato or slashing bow work. Roberts is similarly expansive, veering between the registers, from a gruff but fluid bottom end to vocalized multiphonic shrieks.
Maybe that compositional ear manifests in the weight given to repeated motifs, such as Brice's reiterated melodic bounce which starts "Pipework," or Roberts' insistently lyric repartee which she alternates with harsh blurts in the same piece. While the rejoinders may defy expectations, they are rarely unrelated, often matching in terms of pacing, dynamics or language. However it is the points where they converge, such as the welter of bent pitches which bloom part way through "Peering," which prove some of the sweetest. The final "Buoyancy Chamber" recalls a spiritual, something akin to "Old Man River," in its initial gravity, before spinning off into yet more irreverent but ultimately rewarding discussion.
Perhaps the only hint of the geographic circumstance is the absence of turn-on-a-penny conclusions, in favor of gentler endings; but that in no way diminishes the potency of the duet. More would be welcome, and it would be fascinating to hear how being in the same space might affect the already heady crossfire.
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