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Eraldo Bernocchi: Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It

John Ephland By

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RareNoise is one of those labels, one of those rare (no pun intended) labels, where format and style have become irrelevant. A recent sampling of the soon-to-be historic label should suffice in telling their ongoing musical odyssey. Pit one against the other: 2018's Anguish, featuring among others, Nordic phenom Mats Gustafsson in a wild-haired hoedown of so-called free jazz next to the edgy, unbalanced ambience of Chat Noir (2016). Or how about 2013's free-range rocky, jazzy Berserk! with a enlarged cast of players plowing through tunes with titles like "Not Dead" and "Fatal Claustrophobia," Sonar Vortex (2018) with guitar force David Torn right along next to the exquisite lyricism of trumpeter Cuong Vu's tribute to composer Michael Gibbs with Ballet (2017) with featured artist guitarist Bill Frisell.

Then there's even radical departures within the catalog of single artists, keyboard whiz Jamie Saft a perfect example: going from the open-ended jazz of Plymouth (2014) with a crack unit of unpredictables in guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Gerald Cleaver, Chris Lightcap on electric bass and the musical wild card/creative force Joe Morris this time playing electric guitar, to a relatively straight-ahead trio-plus-sax trip down memory lane (can I get an encore of "Violets For Your Furs" or how about "Sweet Lorraine"?) with Blue Dream (2018) or Solo a Genova (2018), Saft's mostly ruminative solo-piano cover versions of jazz and pop classics like the Miles Davis/Bill Evans gem "Blue In Green," John Coltrane's gorgeous, plaintive "Naima" and Joni Mitchell's barroom ballad "Blue Motel Room." For more color, there's Saft's duet collaboration with fellow plectrist Bill Brovold winding down laid-back, nature-ly serenity knolls with, well, Serenity Knolls (2017). And, as if Saft couldn't get enough variety in his punch, there's his third outing with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bobby Previte with their 2019 breakout organ trio date You Don't Know The Life. To top things off, consider the legendary multi-instrumentalist Adam Rudolph's recent double-LP/CD The Unknowable (2018), which manages to somehow create yet another musical world, combining elements of world music, jazz improvisation and the always musical elements of space, featuring another legend, jazz reedist Dave Liebman along with stalwart Japanese percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani. Incidentally, The Unknowable is just one of many RareNoise titles that come in multiple formats.

Why this seemingly wayward, unnecessary trip down an already storied contemporary record label's memory lane? Perhaps to highlight the significant aesthetic continuity that lies beneath obvious stylistic differences. If you listen to the rawness of a band like RareNoise's Naked Truth and then go for something that pulls you into a quieter zone like Eraldo Bernocchi's new Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It, you (if you let yourself) are drawn into a new listening matrix, where the street meets the stars, where market forces are light years from the musical sensibilities that permeate such surface paradoxes. Indeed, one can be once again thrust into the real, ear-jarring world of compare and contrast, where musician and concept, variation and range, cross-cultural experimentation are experienced, a thrust into a so-called matrix that can defy one's working hypothesis of what makes for musical gravity and its free-range alternatives.

Guitarist/keyboardist/electrician (and RareNoise co-founder) Bernocchi -whose previous three releases for the label include the laid-back Hawaii slack dreamweaving duet Invisible Strings (2016) with Indian multi-instrumentalist Prakash Sontakke, the trio outing Rosebud (2017) with FM Einheit and Jo Quail, and Winter Garden with Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie (2011), along with a significant contributing role on Gaudi's Magnetic (2017)—goes it alone on Like A Fire. And yet you'd never know it if you weren't informed by the CD sleeve's listing. As with the already mentioned titles, Like A Fire approaches the musical equivalent of something melting in your mouth, only the orifice in this case are one's ears. The ears being the gateway. But if Like A Fire was simply a head phenomenon you wouldn't be reading this review, would you? It feels like a band album.

From track to track, the Italian Bernocchi's sonic designs, created mainly from guitars, pretty much maintain the balance between melody and tunefulness with a soft-hewed jaggedness of experimental pop and hints of some kind of avant-garde restlessness. With this album a kind of synthetic wandering captures something of the symphonic that is storytelling. And, yes, it travels. Travels without the cloying melodic tropes that can sometimes upend ventures of this sort. The ambient nature of the recording and its plangent, omnipresent reverb, echo and delay help to create a dreamscape that, like the best of Brian Eno's more ambient, instrumental excursions, creates the illusion of technology as friend to nature. The recording itself manages to embrace a sonic range that envelopes both the high-end sirens along with quivering bottom-end moorings, Bernocchi's craft at various instruments here surpassing previously heard efforts done in collaboration. To this listener, he's best heard alone with his unique, ofttimes mystifying ways and means.

The earmark to this affair may be how he indulges in the unexpected, despite what may seem to the casual observer to be a fairly monochromatic, overly subtle, uneventful aural experience. Indeed, the program builds slowly, the early pieces perhaps a bit nondescript. But by the time we get to the closer, much dramatic tension has emerged and been released. "A letter and a place" is a good example of how Bernocchi can take electronics in this genre and create a funky undertow groove that suggests flowing forward motion even as the earthbound mood ends up moving more like a spiral staircase. Couple that with what follows in "The never ending pier" and the punctuation that was so present evaporates, the program continuing with no apparent direction ... just a seamless sonic dreamscape both lovely and deliciously wayward in delivery. The spell remains.

The closing moments, a reprise to an earlier version of "Like I wasn't there" followed by something called "Near by distance," manage to give one the experience of hearing a tidy dustup to all that preceded, offering a kind of movie-ending sweetness.

Over seventy minutes of imaginative, elegiac music from a master of suspension, haunting lyricism and unpredictable sonic nuances, using machines to take you beyond machines. Like the best of its kind, Like A Fire might well become a soundtrack to one's own poetic imagination spanning deep space, or the leaf you just witnessed effortlessly falling before your curious eyes as you stroll across the garden.

A footnote: Like A Fire was the soundtrack to the documentary Cy Dear about American painter/sculptor/photographer Cy Twombly, which premiered at MOMA in 2018. (The artwork that is the cover to Like A Fire is the titled artwork by Twombly.)

Like I said, RareNoise's formula is no formula. It's all out there. And in here as well.

Track Listing: Meet Me Where You Know; To Make Things Float; From A Distance; White; The Silver Laugh; A Child And A Pencil; The Gold House; Like I Wasn't There; A Letter And A Place; The Never Ending Pier; 1-10 Of Happiness; Swirling Colours; We Had A Good Time; A Crack In Time; The Space Between; Out In The Blue; Like I Wasn't There (Reprise); Near By Distance.

Personnel: Eraldo Bernocchi: guitars, treated guitars, electronics.

Title: Like A Fire That Consumes All Before It | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: RareNoiseRecords

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