This is an ingenious and beguiling CD. It opens with the familiar strains of Roberta Flack singing Ewan McColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, soon joined by Kai Fagaschinski's clarinet and Christof Kurzmann producing an appropriately churchy organ-like sound, improvising along with the track. After about two minutes, Roberta Flack fades away, leaving the duo to continue improvising, retaining the strong mood Flack created. Although they continue for more than ten minutes, the source material seems to linger in the air, its dominant atmosphere all pervasive; one hears the improvisation as a continuation of Flack. Oh, the power of pop music!
As a clarinettist, Fagaschinski strongly favours long, sustained notes with a hint of vibrato, which contribute to an air of melancholy. Kurzmann occasionally introduces high frequency sine wave whines as contrast, but mainly employs drones that complement the clarinet well. There is not much variation or development, but there doesn't need to be; one could happily listen to these modulating drones for hours. For the closing track, a reprise of the opener, Flack gradually fades back in alongside the duo's improvisations, giving the album a pleasing symmetry and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion.
In between the intro and the outro, there are four contrasting tracks that are in slightly more traditional improv territory and demonstrate the duo's range. "Aisha combines clarinet pad noise and flutterings with a range of electronic soundshigh frequency white noise, prayer bowl ringing, low frequency chopper sounds, etc.in a piece that never satisfactorily gels. "Marisol (all the pieces seem to carry women's names) is far more successful; a very understated piece, employing similar sounds and methods to "Aisha, it achieves a taut, tense, brooding atmosphere that stands up well to repeated listening.
"Chow (is that a woman's name?) is the longest track here at over seventeen minutes, and the most compatible with the title pieces. After a prolonged bout of clarinet and electronics, not dissimilar to the preceding tracks, it also includes a sampled Chinese pop song (uncredited) midway through that kickstarts a clarinet duet which retains the rhythm of the song. As before, the sound and mood of the pop song lingers, colouring the mood of the piece, for the better.
I've thought long and hard about other uses of pop songs in contexts similar to those here, and only come up with Stock, Hausen & Walkman's (scandalous!) use of Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky, and Terry Riley's cut up version of "You're No Good. How about a discussion thread to share others?
Anyway... the use here is stunningly effective.