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Here we have a CD of live performances from Baltimore’s High Zero Festival of Experimental Improvised Music 2000, centered around one of the most noteworthy participants. The festival is somewhat unique in that the lineup for each performance in the festival is chosen by the organizers.
The disc features 4 short pieces that were privately recorded in a studio during breaks in official festival activity, and about a half-hour of music from three festival sets. Unlike Shelley Hirsch, Genetti keeps language out of the picture, and its inevitable foregrounded prominence, maintaining a role as an equal partner in instrumental exchanges. Her work here is comparable in approach and quality to her excellent duo discs from recent years, Animus (with Eric Leonardson) and In the Garden of Earthly Delights (with Bob Marsh). All of the studio pieces feature Jack Wright on tenor sax or contra-alto clarinet, and it would certainly appear that Genetti is Wright’s vocal collaborator of choice, which is especially understandable to me after witnessing their amazing trio with percussionist Jerry Breyerton last year; Genetti’s refreshing and rough-edged spontaneity definitely educes some of Wright’s best playing, perhaps because Wright’s aesthetic approximates a search for the ineffable qualities of the human voice in his palette of reed sounds, not to mention the ineffable vocal qualities of other animal species. All the pieces on the disc are worthy of careful listening, but the two Genetti/Wright duets are hands-down my favorites, and major highlights in both musicians’ discographies. Their sounds are raw and penetrating without sacrificing precision and rhythmic puzzles. There are tiny snippets (mainly 2:18-2:21 on “Vibrate and Ultimately Succumb” and 3:06-3:12 on “Lovecraft in Texas”) where Genetti achieves an unreal quiet glitch that would send a lot of contemporary electronic musicians running to re-program their software. In a related event, between 2:16 and 2:24 on “Lovecraft in Texas” Genetti shockingly captures the glitched balloon sounds of the epochal Judy Dunaway/Yasunao Tone collaboration “Bluebird” from Dunaway’s seminal Balloon Music . This is not to suggest, however, that Genetti’s rhythmic palette is restricted in any way: “Vibrate and Ultimately Succumb” is an urgent exhibition of at least 50 clearly distinct species of musical motion (mostly vigorous) in less than 3 minutes. The other two Genetti/Wright pieces feature violinist Jon Rose, who sometimes relies on obvious motifs and hackneyed tonal gestures that stick out like a sore thumb, but who also is capable of holding his own in some gripping three-way interplay in the classic style of rapid shifts and constant newness.
Similar remarks can be made about Rose’s appearance on a piece with John Dierker (bass clarinet), Jerry Lim (guitar), and Genetti, except here he gets rowdy with his distortion towards the end, which makes for a nice release after the forgettable meandering that comprises much of the track. A more exciting sample of Genetti’s festival doings is found in a trio with Paul Hoskin (alto sax) and John Berndt, one of the main behind-(and in front of)-the-scene figures in the Red Room/High Zero milieu, who whacks and bows his self-invented “peasant instrument”. There’s a strong sense of shared purpose in the playing and a comfortable serving of polite noise, with Hoskin’s rawness being Genetti’s main foil. For the highly satisfying 16-minute episode that ends the disc, Genetti is joined by Magali Babin (metal objects, pickup), Julie Pomerleau (violin), Catherine Pancake (percussion), and John Berndt (alto sax, self-invented instruments, electronics). I’m glad to report the presence of a great variety of modest sound events whose co-occurrence keeps boredom well at bay. Lots of things happen, but density and aggression make only fleeting cameo appearances. The sounds stand up, stretch their legs, maybe even pacing the vicinity, and then sit back down again, or occasionally walk over to the other side of the room, usually tripping over something. I’m grateful for music like this that never supplies a plot to grow weary of.
Track Listing: The Shuddering; Lovecraft in Texas; Severe Destructive Vibrations; Last Prance; Vibrate and Ultimately Succumb; Last Dance; Inside-Out Machines; Elevator Road.
Personnel: Carol Genetti: voice; Paul Hoskin: alto sax; John Berndt: peasant instrument, fan, alto sax, sporadica, broncophone, feedback electronics with modified processors, Clavia Nord Micromodular synthesizer; Jack Wright: contra-alto clarinet, tenor sax; John Dierker: bass clarinet; Jon Rose: violin; Jerry Lim: guitar; Jason Willett: theremin, ring modulator, stylophone; Magali Babin: metal objects, pickup; Julie Pomerleau: violin; Catherine Pancake: drums, steel drum.