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Postmarks: National Parks

John Eyles By

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The duo Postmarks consists of London-born Austrian saxophonist Boris Hauf and the Chicago-based American pianist D Bayne. Their first CD Western Ave (Luminescence, 2005) was a limited-edition of only one hundred copies packaged in unique covers, each a handcrafted collage from twenties Chicago postcards. For National Parks, the duo went to Vienna to record with experimental guitarist Martin Siewert, maybe best known for his work with Trapist or in Hauf's Efzeg. The outlines for the ten pieces the three recorded were composed by Hauf and Bayne, and inspired by U.S. national parks and their representation on posters from the thirties and forties.

Without veering too close to programme music, the pieces clearly display the influence of the material that inspired them. They are gently melodious and have a mellow tranquillity that is easy on the ear without risking becoming soporific. Occasionally there are traces that the two have been mindful of the thirties/forties origins of the posters, most obviously in Hauf's sax work. For instance, his rising phrase that opens "Hubbell Trading Post at dusk" sounds borrowed from the big band era and will have many listeners racking their brains for its inspiration. Three of the pieces appear in two versions—distinguished as "at dawn" and "at dusk"—and comparison of these reveal that the compositions are not prescriptive but allow the players considerable leeway for interpretation and improvisation, to the extent that—at over eleven minutes—"Hubbell Trading Post at dawn" is over twice the length of "Hubbell Trading Post at dusk."

As the inspiration for the music was a combination of nature (the parks) and nostalgia (the posters), the choice of Siewert as a guest player with the duo was an intriguing one, maybe signalling that Hauf and Bayne were seeking to avoid the music becoming overly pastoral or nostalgic. If that was the intention, Siewert—with his minimalist style and use of electronics—was a good choice to help steer the music clear of such things. In practice, Siewert plays a typically understated role, contributing just enough coloration to brand this as twenty-first century music; for instance his judicious injections of electronic noise clearly brand it as neither pastoral nor nostalgic. An inspired choice by Postmarks.

Track Listing: Bandelier National; Big Thicket; Bryce Canyon at dawn; Hubbell Trading Post at dusk; Fossil Butte; Gila Cliff Dwellings; Hubbell Trading Post at dawn; Capitol Reef at dusk; Bryce Canyon at dusk; Capitol Reef at dawn.

Personnel: Boris Hauf: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone; D Bayne: piano; Martin Siewert: guitar, electronics.

Title: National Parks | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Monotype Records

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