Wet Ink Ensemble - "Pendulum V (2009)" (Lift-Tilt-Filter-Spit)
Alex Mincek is a saxophonist, composer, and also the artistic director of the fantastic new music collective The Wet Ink Ensemble. For Lift-Tilt-Filter-Split, a “solo album” of sorts, Mincek has penned five terrific pieces for different instrumentation, each one dense, urgent and sonically provocative. Each piece of concert music shares Mincek’s compositional virtues overall, notably his ability to conjure marvels of instrumental detail – the highly idiomatic and the mysterious – while still conferring on his pieces a sense of power and direction (where too many new music pieces lose themselves in the topiary).
The pieces have a kind of rigorous plotting to them (and you see for yourself, since portions of some scores are reproduced along with the CD), but this is realized in gracefully articulated moments of tension, bursts of coordinated linear or (more frequently) rhythmic activity, and coloristic cohesion. The ensembles here – not just Wet Ink, but the superb strings unit the JACK Quartet and the terrifically plucky Michael Ibrahim and Eric Poland, whose splendid closing duet is the closest we get to something like jazz here – are all deft at concentrating and distilling Mincek’s intentions, realizing timbral and orchestral complexity with a clarity and elegance that allows the details to resonate. Hear this most impressively on the first Wet Ink performance, “Pendulum V.” The piece opens the album with a groaning wow-wow brass effect and proceeds from there through a marvelous greenhouse of textures: tightly coiled brass, woody punctuations, some lovely post-serialist lines. Filled with contrast and tension, deftly controlled percussion is a key here, with a huge dynamic range dotted with multiform textures and moments of suspense (I especially love the alto flute and bass clarinet). “Poco a Poco,” the ensemble’s other full piece, finds them both spiky and spacious. “Pendulum III” is filled with buoyant intervals and a tonal range so impressive that it’s hard to believe it’s a duet. The righteous exchanges between Eliot Gattegno’s alto and Eric Wubbels’ piano calls to mind Anthony Braxton and Marilyn Crispell.
The fantastic title piece, played with great energy and nuance by JACK, brings to the fore Mincek’s tendency to weave grinding minimalist passages into his long forms. Utilizing the full sonic range of their instruments, the players soar between registers, often amazingly articulating each note with what sounds like an entirely different attack. Filled with small springy sounds and huge roars that almost recalls Stockhausen’s Helicopter Quartet, “lift-tilt-filter-split” is tone-morphing and slashing, craggy and fluid. Like the record as a whole, this piece has the same kind of densely structured but free-sounding energy you’d find in a Simon H. Fell ensemble. Mincek, however, has a vibrant and distinctive personality all his own. His music deserves far wider exposure.