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Julia Wolfe - Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples

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Artist: Julia Wolfe

Album: Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples

Label: Cantaloupe

Review date: Nov. 12, 2009

Julie Wolfe’s Dark Full Ride is subtitled Music in Multiples, which sums up well the album’s conceptual thrust. On each of the disc’s four pieces, Wolfe composed for multiple instances of a single instrument: nine bagpipes, four drum sets, six pianos and eight double basses. Her four instrumental selections have distinct timbres, and, as a result, the four compositions on the disc exist in specific realms, making for an interesting, if sometimes uneven, album. Wolfe uses these multiples both as a means of layering single instruments into a larger whole and as foils for one another, making for music that is more conversant, with its separate voices reacting and responding to one another as they come together and stray apart.

The four compositions that make up Dark Full Ride are divided into parts, making for distinct approaches even within some of the pieces. The album’s title track, performed by the Talujon Percussion Quartet, is played solely on hi-hats for its first seven-minute segment before making use of the full in its second half. “Dark Full Ride” is perhaps the album’s most intriguing selection, combining rhythms in a conglomeration that, while tightly composed and performed, seems ever on the verge of erupting into something more akin to the drum room at Guitar Center. Wolfe keeps things far more under control on “LAD,” the disc’s other likely calling card. Weaving nine performances from Matthew Welch into one, Wolfe makes use of the bagpipes’ capacity for drone, constructing an ever-rising cloud of pipes in part one, resulting in a rich, unending crescendo. In part two, the tones move in straighter lines, and less frequently in unison, their effect more in variation than in number. The old harangues about bagpipes may, for many listeners, still hold true, but as anyone familiar with Welch knows, there’s a potential in the instrument’s signature sound for quite interesting experimentation, and Wolfe mines it beautifully on the album’s most exhilarating selection.

“My Lips From Speaking” and “Stronghold,” for pianos and double basses, respectively, may sound more pedestrian, largely due to the familiarity of their instruments in a modern compositional setting, but they’re certainly no standards. On the former, Wolfe takes a bluesy riff and stretches, disassembles, and assaults it, with the pianos offering counterpoint reactions to one another and joining in tumbling clouds of chaos. “Stronghold” broods and buzzes, with bowing tight and rapid, like insect wings, and slow, mournful, melodic strains. As with her use of the piano, Wolfe doesn’t completely shy away from lyricism here, though her frequent undercutting of the composition’s sparse beauty with frenetic, atonal sawing means that there’s not a surfeit of emotional foothold in the piece.

Dark Full Ride doesn’t often relent, and Wolfe, no matter the instrument, seems concerned with enveloping the listener in sound, often with disorienting results. The Music in Multiples aspect of Dark Full Ride rarely feels like a cheap novelty; instead, Wolfe uses her musical doppelgangers to reassess four instruments, as well as the focus and breadth of the tonal palates of each. Homogeneity is utilized, but never exploited on this, an album that explores similarity and difference with a skill that transcends its simple conceit.

By Adam Strohm

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