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Zeena Parkins & Ikue Mori - Phantom Orchard

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Artist: Zeena Parkins & Ikue Mori

Album: Phantom Orchard

Label: Mego

Review date: Oct. 20, 2004

Though they’ve played together numerous times, Phantom Orchard marks the first album featuring Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins in a duo setting. The pair, both heavyweights in New York’s avant-garde community, came from distinctly different musical beginnings, but they’re both innovative icons on their respective instruments. Mori, whose American musical career began as the drummer for DNA, took up the drum machine and founded a new world for the instrument, taking it far beyond backing rhythms and robotic fills. Parkins began as an acoustic harpist, but, in the late ’80s, she and Tom Cora began to explore a design that revolutionized the harp in terms of both technique and palate, and, as her electric harp has been further modified and refined, Parkins continues to rediscover the harp in both its acoustic and electric formats. She’s an impressive composer in her own right, and an oft-desired member of other composers’ groups and backing bands. On Phantom Orchard, both women make use of a larger array of instruments, with Parkins playing not only harp, but piano, mellotron and a collection of analog synthesizers, and Mori, various digital electronics. The music keeps its feet firmly in two worlds, collaborative improvisation that, at its best, weaves the acoustic and electric sound sources almost seamlessly.

The disc’s opening track, “Jezebel” features Parkins on harp, a dreamlike haze of plucking and swaddling ambience from Mori. The exchange of harp for piano on “Savage Flower” creates a shift in tone, but not in theme, with Mori’s squiggles and sweeping tones enveloping the piano in a manner that is surprisingly engaging for how thoroughly comfortable the music feels. Phantom Orchard, however, slowly leans toward Parkins’ synthesizers as the album progresses, and the resulting improvisations lack the more interesting interplay that makes tracks like “Jezebel,” and, for instance, “Deft,” so alluring.

Mori’s samples run the gamut from echoes of the natural world to science-fiction alchemy, and she’s usually adept when it comes to synthesis with Parkins’ music; she sometimes uses more percussive strains to propel the music, other times layering the background of the mix with blankets of tone, cushioning her collaborator’s creations.

Phantom Orchard remains a beautifully sculpted bit of improv, ethereal and celestial. The crowded, more jumbled moments are few, and Parkins and Mori don’t seem to be hindered by these momentary potholes, never allowing them to fester into something bigger. Such a simpatico relationship is a joy to experience.

By Adam Strohm

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