Cooper-Moore, at first glance, can be compared to a savant subway musician: eccentric, obsessed with repeating melodic and rhythmic patterns, fast, passionate, eye-catching. Though many subway musicians would never sound good besides the brief respite they afford a too-crowded platform, occasionally there is one that is so moving, so original and so well-composed that they warrant another listen.
That's kind of how it feels when listening to Cooper-Moore's The Cedar Box Recordings. This collection archives both his amazing home-built instruments (among them the Ashimba, the Diddley-Bo and the Twanger) and the tunes he has been playing on them for years, some going back to the early '70s. Characteristic is his "Emancipation," played on the Ashimba, and the "Ashton Marimba." A tune from 1974, Moore played it every day on the sliver of park next to the West Side highway at sunset, for anyone who would listen. Like many of his other songswhich he has been playing and developing for yearsit is built on a melodic theme, but as this recording suggests, constantly changes through development, texture and rhythm.
Cooper-Moore plays beautifully: his Horizontal Hoe-Handle Harp produces a mellow baritone, similar to a kora or Malaysian harp. The track included on this album, "Where Do Old Friends Go?," stands out as the most reflective and beautiful. Similarly, his home-built Bamboo Fife and the compositions he plays on them bask in the slow-moving, slow-developing joy of a musician with nothing to lose. This kind of pure musical experimentation is tempered with both the American folk tradition and a wild streak reminiscent of Hermeto Pascoal. (Especially on the fife, the timbre of which recalls Pascoal's ocarinas and nose flutes, almost uncannily.) Moore's wild streak is brought out most strongly in "Solo from Bordeaux," a wildly frenetic piano solo, which he describes as almost "painful." To him, maybe; but an invaluable document of a true musical innovator nevertheless.
Track Listing: A Lament for Trees; Where Do Old Friends Go?; Emancipation; Fife in the Living Room; Fife on Bridge Over River; That's Right; Solo from Bordeaux; A Sunday Tale; Sweet Hour of Prayer; Crow Shit on the Window; The Death Queen.
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