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Caroline Kraabel / Phil Hargreaves: Where We Were

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As part of the London Improvisers Orchestra, American-born and London-based instrumentalist Caroline Kraabel is no stranger to electro-acoustic incorporations of all varieties, but Where We Were takes such concerns to the next level. While the playing is outstanding, it is the world invoked between each utterance that makes the disc one of the most fascinating soundscape pieces in recent memory.

The accompanying booklet speaks matter-of-factly and touchingly about life's progression over the four-year period in which the hours of music were recorded—in greenhouses, anechoic chambers, wells, tunnels and a noisy pub. These are only veiled landmarks, linear practicalities that merely hint at what emerges when you press play. Location becomes as simultaneously clear and elusive as pitch, attack, decay. The addition of vocals, sometimes doubling another instrument, is powerful enough to bring on aching nostalgia but never a distraction.

In fact, the disc is a study in understatement, more and more of it devoted to near silence as the piece proceeds. Some environmental transitions are slow, some disconcertingly fast, whatever software was employed for the final edits enabling many such shifts. One of the most striking narrative juxtapositions opens the disc as a chatty audience slowly fades to a distant car alarm, the sound maybe coming from just outside the pub window—or is it from some other time and place?

The disc reveals more background each time one listens. To attempt any kind of linear explanation would go against everything the duo has achieved. It was clearly a labor of love for a favorite city, and the results are as stunning, as infinitely simple, as the cityscape it captures.

Personnel: Caroline Kraabel, Phil Hargreaves: saxophones.

Title: Where We Were | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Leo Records

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