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Album Review

Shahzad Ismaily: sea legs / hum back


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Shahzad Ismaily: sea legs / hum back
A split album with the first ever solo release by American multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (who has played with artists like guitarist Marc Ribot, singer/songwriter Tom Waits and experimentalist Laurie Anderson), plus a solo euphonium program by Belgian Niels Van Heertum: one side each in the LP version.

Ismaily begins the set with a single long track. "Sea Legs" is a stream of consciousness trip, cycling through various instruments. It begins with an acoustic guitar, a slow meditative pattern that gives way to banjo. If anything the banjo section starts out even more meditative, a minimal pattern of single notes punctuated by strummed chords, which then goes into chord melody. Finally a kind of clawhammer technique provides a more traditional banjo sound, followed by a melody with broken chords.

A brief shaker interlude has an almost natural sound, like a summer rainstorm. When the banjo returns Ismaily is in a reflective mood, playing guitar-like ornaments. The piece ends with the unearthly sound of heavily reverbed wordless vocals with bowed banjo, a dense slow cloud that stands in contrast with the previous music. The performance fits in very well with the recent banjo focus in Aspen Edities' releases.

Van Heertum's set is made up of four shorter tracks. They are based on his euphonium playing, but with some use of overdubbing and electronics. Less minimal than his previous solo album JK's Kamer +50.92509° +03.84800 (Smeraldina-rima, 2017), it is also more experimental than the chamber jazz of his previous release as leader with his band Veder, Evergreen (Aspen Edities, 2017). Opener "Urlicht" is based on a Gustav Mahler composition, and also introduces the "euphonium organ," a sampler loaded with euphonium samples which Van Heertum often uses here to multiply himself.

"Bowhead" deals in long tones, with Van Heertum sometimes singing into the mouthpiece, producing ghostly overtones. "Fugu" begins with organ chords in a huge reverberant space, which are then overlaid with solo euphonium lines (or possibly conch shells). The longest track in the second half of the program, it progresses at a stately pace—but it does progress. "Martim" concludes the album with a briefer, more melodic euphonium/euphonium organ duet, which sounds like a trio with conch shells at the end. Presumably some of this was done via overdubbing, but it all sounds organic.

Two very different approaches to solo performance, with both album halves complementing each other. A good place for new listeners to acquaint themselves with the kind of experimentation fostered by the Aspen Edities label.

Track Listing

Sea Legs; Urlicht; Bowhead; Fugu; Martim.


Shahzad Ali Ismaily: guitar, banjo, shaker, voice; Niels Van Heertum: euphonium, euphonium organ, conch shells.

Album information

Title: sea legs / hum back | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Aspen Edities

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