Pianist & free improviser Eli Wallace
and tuba player Beth McDonald team up for Solo/Duo
, an ineffable project which eludes characterization. Wallace works across multiple genres, with an experimental spirit. He moved east from Oakland, CA in 2015, earning Bachelor's and Master's degrees from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Now a Brooklyn resident, he has composed for piano, ensembles, vocalists, big band, orchestras, and a dance company. He co-curates the Brooklyn-based music and art installation series Invocation
, with guitarist Drew Wesely. Wallace and his duo partner, drummer Rob Pumpelly
, have released three albums, and Wallace's previous was a solo project, Barriers
(Eschatology Records, 2019).
McDonald is a classically trained tuba and electronics artist who has collaborated on several cross-disciplinary performance projects. She works in a technical capacity at Chicago music school Piano Power and behind the scenes with the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance in Boston. McDonald recorded with a rotating lineup on the experimental album Still -Music For Tuba And Electronics
(2014), and in an electronic trio on Schisandra
(2015), both on the Single Action Rider label. Solo/Duo
is almost evenly divided by the partitioning of the title between two long tracks. Wallace opens "Solo" with a single piano note but doesn't come back to distinguishable characteristics of the instrument for another five minutes. Wallace's effects include strings, percussion, and noise, in addition to incorporating the piano's natural voice. We hear the rumbling of ivory and the rattling of bones on an ominous march to an unknown destination in one passage. Halfway into "Solo," Wallace changes to a simple melody running counter to a kalimba-like sound, with a sharp attack and discordant edge.
"Duo" has a different impact, often near-silence, sometimes dense, there are many sounds without associated images. Even in the piece's most tranquil states, it can have an inexplicable saturating effect on the ears. It is almost fifteen minutes into "Duo" that the tuba distinguishes itself, but here McDonald allows her contribution to double over on itself. It is as if her narrative is relayed with words borrowed from another language. There are no conventions to be found on Solo/Duo
and, while the technical level is striking, it never sounds like a mere exercise.