The Strings The Thing: Lily Maase & Ila Cantor

Celeste Sunderland By

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Lily Maase
Handmaid Music

Ila Cantor
Mother Nebula
Fresh Sound-New Talent

Unexpected touches, like the "Ahhs" sung on track seven "Centerlude: Vanishing Point" and the frenzied guitar sounds on track four "The Great Escape", are what make guitarist/composer Lily Maase's new album Unbind so special. Electronic threads weave the bass, drums, saxophones and guitar together, creating a sound that opens gently, while spurts of technological tidbits inject vivacity. The opening track "Prelude: Inner Weave" sees special guests Vijay Iyer, Christian Pincock, Kevin Patton and Adam Benjamin contributing their own electronic strokes. With decapitated digital shards that shoot through a lulling electronic undercurrent, the track evokes a nebulous atmosphere, providing a nice entry for what follows.

The stringed instruments have a tendency to recall Radiohead. The opening bass line of "The Great Escape" especially mimics that band's bludgeoning sound. But Maase and her crew let the sound move drastically away from the center, expanding it into a wildly lurching free jazz tune. On many of the album's compositions, Maase mixes free, electronically altered sounds with straightforward horn lines. On "Ricochet" she twists Peter Van Huffel and Evan Smith's saxophone phrases into a warped emulsion by combining them with a smattering of drums played furiously by Fred Kennedy. Saxophones pick up the cue and join in on the ballistics. Calmed again by the guitar's harmonics, the activity soon repeats, creating a compelling compendium. As a guitarist Maase can be wonderfully inventive, imagining up a freshness not frequently encountered on the instrument—see "Anaphora". As a composer, she treats sound with the utmost respect. Though the effort is sometimes too concentrated, resulting in humdrum. "Kinetoflux" for example traipses along rather sullenly. The tune's merit is held aloft by solemn multiphonics.

In contrast to Unbind, which is centered on the exploration of sound, guitarist Ila Cantor's debut disc Mother Nebula is based on rhythm and groove. The guitar latches onto a beat laid down by drum and bass and develops it into a tale of texture. But the story falls short. Her rhythms can at times be gripping, like on the folksy "Pillows" and syncopated "Man VS. Robot", but they lack profound development. Saxophone phrases often amble mundanely through a tune, helped along by the glow of a guitar chord like on "Resaca". Lovely moments are stranded without proper context. Though as the tune unfolds, a nice dialogue between Joe Smith's drums and Cantor's guitar transpires. Softly, the pair engages in a sedate exchange, steeped in intrigue, almost clandestine. The best track is unfortunately the second shortest; "Serious" features a compelling undercurrent created by guitar that glistens evocatively. At only a minute and a half, the tune holds a secret: Cantor still has much to reveal.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Prelude: Inner Weave; Made To Be Broken; Interlude: Boolix Redux; The Great Escape; Interlude: Inspected By 6; Anaphora; Centerlude: Vanishing Point; Ricochet; Interlude: Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector; Kinetoflux; Reduction Sketch; Postlude: Suite Release.

Personnel: Lily Maase: guitar; Peter Van Huffel: alto and soprano saxophones; Evan Smith: tenor saxophone; Matt Wigton: electric bass; Fred Kennedy: drums.

Mother Nebula

Tracks: Mother Nebula, Mmm, Pillows, Rock, BLT, Serious, Man VS. Robot, Resaca, Before And, After, End

Personnel: Ila Cantor: guitar; Joe Smith: Drums; Tom Warburton: bass; Fredrik Carlquist: saxophone.


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