It seems that composer/pianist/ performance artist Charlemagne Palestine has found, in the electro-acoustic trio Perlonex, some ideal collaborators. This two-CD set, recorded during a performance in Vienna in 2006, offers an engaging and engulfing listening experience, vibrating with both the crystalline grace and the compulsive discord that have long been a hallmark of Palestine’s sound world.
The sounds begin with long tones, likely from Ignaz Schick’s sine wave generators and devices: additive drones building up overtones, creating the sound-as-physical presence sensation familiar from Palestine’s organ compositions. Palestine, first with distant cantorial vocals, then with gently arpeggiated and, eventually, massively strummed grand piano patterns, finds space within this ever-changing flow. All the while the pulse and chatter and texture provided by Jorg Maria Zeger’s guitars and stomp boxes and Burkhard Beins’ percussion and electronics add surprise. It’s a long unfolding, a slow and heavy flow of sound—sometimes harrowing, always hypnotic—as it variously drones, pulses, resonates; whispers, roars, thunders.
The performances were recorded at a club called Porgy and Bess. That and a chance encounter Palestine had with a distant relative of the Gershwin family account in part, apparently, for the work’s title, and for the jazz-like sections wherein Palestine sings and chants the eight-syllable melodic/lyrical motif from the Gershwins’s song, ”It Ain’t Necessarily So.” Palestine turns the phrase over and over in theme-and-variations, obsessively, shamanically, like a new thing tenor player, or perhaps like Bob Dorough morphing into Kurt Schwitters as a Gyuto monk. All the while the power of Perlonex’s sonic presence flows in and around both Charlemagne’s singing and his sometimes- fluttering, sometimes-pounding piano. The effect is seismic and celestial all at once.
Another thing—and not a small thing, maybe—that struck this reviewer upon repeated listening was the way Palestine and Perlonex have come close here, at times, to that elusive Cage-ean ideal: the power that rises from allowing sounds to adhere and yet still be sounds in and of themselves.