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Shadow and Light - Shadow and Light

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Artist: Shadow and Light

Album: Shadow and Light

Label: Drimala

Review date: May. 13, 2002

Joe Giardullo is a multi-reedist who's interested in microtonality, in which the octave is divided into a different set of tones than the twelve offered by conventional Western music. (Microtonal music often sounds "out of tune" to the untrained ear.) His music is unnerving and understated, and sounds best in an environment where the listener can fully appreciate the silences, breathing noises, and seasick pitch slides that are as important to his music as notes and rhythm. Tenor saxophonist and pocket trumpeter Joe McPhee, on the other hand, is at his best in legato passages that show off his full, burly tone and howling multiphonics. Both players, especially McPhee, have proven remarkably able to adapt to unfamiliar playing situations, and the two men have played together for over ten years. And admittedly, I've only heard one other album on which they've performed together. But on paper, they seem to have little in common.

Little, but not nothing. By chance, Giardullo scheduled the recording of what became Shadow and Light last September 11th. After the players (including Giardullo, McPhee, bassist Mike Bisio and drummer Tani Tabbal) learned of the terrorist attacks that occurred that day, they scrapped their original plans for the session and played a freely improvised set instead.

The playing brilliantly expresses the sense of shock, confusion and helplessness most of us felt that morning -- the musicians sound as if they're struggling to stand up, as if the next note they play might cause them to collapse. Shadow and Light's bent notes and mournful, legato lines are reminiscent of the blues, but they're also unfamiliar and disorienting. Many of the pieces are quiet ruminations for solo or duet, but even when all four musicians are playing, a subdued mood prevails. When the music does get more frenzied, it sounds more out of frustration than ecstasy.

Giardullo's wobbly melodies and space-filled phrasing and Tabbal's echoing drum sound remind me of the Joe Maneri Quartet's In Full Cry with percussionist Randy Peterson. But the wild card here is McPhee, whose more conventionally blues-like melodies complement Giardullo perfectly in this setting. If this record were more aggressive, or more lighthearted, or more detached, then I'm not sure how the collaboration between McPhee and Giardullo would work. But, by emphasizing unnerving silence and mournful sound, Shadow and Light finds the space where McPhee and Giardullo have the most in common.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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