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Ingrid Laubrock: Contemporary Chaos Practices

Don Phipps By

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From the first startling attack of Contemporary Chaos Practices, Ingrid Laubrock lets the listener know she wants your attention. And the music is certainly attention-grabbing. Or would startling, fascinating, and incredible be better words? For nothing quite sets the table for what the listener will experience on this album. It is as if heaven and earth have been distilled into a musical tome that seeks, justifiably, to confront the anxiety and irrationality that darkens contemporary times.

German composer and saxophonist Laubrock has studied under Dave Liebman and Jean Toussaint and performed with Anthony Braxton. But on this album, with 47 musicians, two conductors, Eric Wubbels and Taylor Ho Bynum, and including soloists of the caliber of pianist Kim Davis, guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Nate Wooley, and Laubrock herself, she pushes beyond her influences with a bold and original statement. The result is an epic adventure in sound that breaks new ground—not unlike Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" or Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima."

Laubrock begins the album with "Contemporary Chaos Practices -Part 1 & Part 2." The music fluctuates between sudden attacks and an orchestral interpretation of a mosquito humming at one's ear. Halvorson's guitar lines and electronic effects percolate beneath. The trumpet section states the theme and the woodwind players sound off, while the French horn section gives off an elephant roar followed by long notes. There are dark resonant sounds with occasional drum patter and high-pitched howls above. The woodwinds add tonguing and odd reed effects. Laubrock solos with abstractions and a hint of blues over the long legato phrasing of the orchestra; she continues her solo a capella. The string section resumes with a shimmering effect, the woodwinds enter a lull, and the weight of the orchestra turns ponderous. The music appears to break apart and reform like cosmic dust and gas forming planets in some unknown solar system in some distant galaxy. The orchestra begins to heave and hurl. There are clanging sounds, like sheets of metal banging in the wind. The woodwind section offers Braxtonian rasps and fingers as the piece ends.

"Contemporary Chaos Practices -Part 3" is just as driven. The piccolos and violins announce the beginning. The flute dits and dots above the woodwinds and strings. The bassoons and bass enter and one can hear the bass clarinet underneath. Kris Davis' piano lines emerge as the music becomes a sudden wave, crashing on the shore. There is an almost news-bulletin urgency that alternates with orchestral waves of sound. The woodwinds take over followed by a restless orchestra response as the piece dissolves. "Contemporary Chaos Practices -Part 4" starts with long notes and phrases and Kris Davis' piano is heard above the discordant tones of the orchestra. The French horn section creates an ethereal atmosphere. Davis attacks the piano's lower register as the orchestra shifts. The piece suggests the shock of coming upon a great abyss.

The final number, "Vogelfrei" begins eerily. Think orbs floating above ice caps on an otherwise normal day. There is a mysterious stillness to the music, followed by long notes and syncopated phrases and a brief clarinet solo. Davis enters with some strikes at the piano's upper register. She strokes the inside of the piano while playing single notes. The orchestra rumbles underneath with multi-note structures and Davis adds interludes around woodwind phrases. Then the woodwinds and strings begin a counterpoint which rapidly accelerates, disappears, and reappears. The percussion emphasizes ends and beginnings of phrases. Bells and chimes enter as the orchestra explores tones from high to low. Davis splashes on the piano. The strings take off with a long descending line while vocalists and instrumentalists tremor above. The sonics become even more intense. Davis plays dreamy abstractions on the piano, her fingers active and roaming. Violins whirl around her, like a tornado vortex. The slinky piano phrasing continues as electronics and dark orchestra sounds resemble disturbing nightmares. Davis' piano becomes more active over the pounding rhythm. Like a Bartok concerto, the orchestra continues to weave around the piano solo. As Davis rolls up and down the piano, the piece begins to turn in on itself—one part of the orchestra plays rapidly while the other enunciates long phrases and notes.

The music on Contemporary Chaos Practices is certainly profound, and Laubrock deserves all the accolades this album is bound to receive. Is this a response to today's fears and apprehensions? Does it, like Beethoven, shake an angry fist —not at death, but at the death and destruction created by our species? Is it a resigned bewilderment of the known and unknown? Is it a musical treatise on the limits of human comprehension? Or is it a musical interpretation of the probability-based nature of physical existence? Whatever it is, it is certainly worth listening to. Highly recommended.

Track Listing: Contemporary Chaos Practices - Part 1 & Part 2; Contemporary Chaos Practices - Part 3; Contemporary Chaos Practices - Part 4; Vogelfrei.

Personnel: Ingrid Laubrock: soprano and tenor saxophone; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; Kris Davis: piano; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Eric Wubbels: conductor 1; Taylor Ho Bynum: conductor 2; Greg Chudzik: bass; Pat Swoboda: bass; Nanci Belmont: bassoon; Dana Jessen: bassoon; Talia Dicker: cello; Maria Hadge: cello; Katinka Kleijn: cello; Joshua Rubin: clarinet, bass clarinet; Katie Schoepflin: clarinet, bass clarinet; Bohdan Hilash: contrabass clarinet, clarinet, bass clarinet; Michel Gentile: flutes, piccolo; Zach Sheets: flute, piccolo, bass flute; Elizabeth Fleming: french horn; John Gattis: french horn; Christa Robinson: oboe; Katie Scheele: oboe, english horn; Tim Feeney: percussion; Clara Warnaar: percussion; Jacob Garchik: trombone; Mike Lormand: trombone; Gareth Flowers: trumpet, piccolo trumpet; Dan Peck: tuba; Dominic DeStefano: viola; Hannah Levinson: viola; Miranda Sielaff: viola; Sam Bardfeld: violin; Maya Bennardo: violin; Jean Cook: violin; Erica Dicker: violin; Mark Feldman (Vogelfrei only): violin; Sarah Goldfeather (Contemporary Chaos Practices only): violin; Megan Gould: violin; Elena Moon Park: violin; Mazz Swift: violin; Roland Burks: vocalist; Tomas Cruz: vocalist; Chris DiMeglio: vocalist; Walker J Jackson: vocalist; Amirtha Kidambi: vocalist; Kyoko Kitamura: vocalist; Emilie Lesbros: vocalist; Kamala Sankaram: vocalist; Josh Sinton (Vogelfrei only): amplified contrabass clarinet.

Title: Contemporary Chaos Practices | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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