The Skein : Andrea Parkins & Jessica Constable "Cities and Eyes"

The Skein :

Andrea Parkins
, electric accordion, effect, samples & live processing, synthesizers, piano, voice
Jessica Constable
, voice and electronics

These duets by The Skein – vocalist Jessica Constable and electro-multiinstrumentalist Andrea Parkins – possess a unified sense of form and feeling. Though fully improvised, it is easy to think of these pieces as composed songs: they are at times quite melodic, exemplifying coherent extemporaneous form. And no matter how unpredictable the sonic content, implicit in all of these pieces is the presence of the human cry: the blues.

Jessica Constable sings into two microphones – one “dry,” and the other treated by electronics that harmonize, reverberate, or mangle her voice. She employs this technique with exceptional adroitness and control as her voice subtly shifts timbre mid- note. Constable’s singing is free and flexible in the manner of classic blues singers, certain pop artists, and singers from Eastern European traditions. There is an implication of ululation, and an often-palpable sense of lamentation that cannot be diluted, tamed or obscured by electronic coloration.

Andrea Parkins brings her full sonic palette to this project: laptop, synthesizers, piano and electronically-processed accordion. Often supporting then subverting Constable’s melodic/modal vocalizations, Parkins keeps things in a constant state of flux. She expresses a tricky balance between the stoic and the confrontational that is like life, illustrated: full of promise, options, occasional disturbance — unpredictable and sometimes without solace.

A salient aspect of these improvisations is that many of them are amazingly concise. With several at less than two minutes in length, these pieces are exceptionally focused. On Nothing/Otherwise, a dreamlike elegy emerges almost fully formed. Soon, Parkins’ distorted accordion and nattering laptop infect the moment with sonic bacteria, subsuming an initial sense of warmth in a swirl of question marks. And Constable’s voice with its breathy lower register and distinctive vibrato adds compelling immediacy to every second.

Often, as on Zobeide, there is a predominating sense of minor modality, even if no clear tonality is offered. This piece highlights Constable’s vocal flexibility, as her voice, in a blink, goes from clear to grainy, from guttural to soaringly angelic. It also reveals Parkins’ timberal range as she laces her accordion with creepy distortion and Whammy pedal harmonics. Her laptop provides a surprising coda; a bluesy string twang vamps briefly, and is suddenly replaced by steam-like hiss and fizz. Mini offers an opening salvo of Lydian grace, only to have Constable’s mock falsetto drift back to the minor, to the blues. Resolution is denied.

Ides for Two delves into musique concrete as it advances from unfamiliar timbres to those we recognize: when tonality emerges but offers no succor, we are sure we’ve heard that disturbing circus music before. Elegy, a twisted torch song, exemplifies a kind of reined-in expressionism perceived throughout the album. A groove is offered and withdrawn. The song is a blues, carefully ruined. On Harrow, Constable nearly channels Laura Nyro mid-ballad before Parkins’ scalpel-like sounds rip at the skin of the tonality.

There are words on this record, though few. Backroom/No introduction offers taut whispers. Are they filled with jittery joy or barely-contained grief? Their ambiguity lends power to the music Ornette Coleman wrote “When Will The Blues Leave?” The blues seep deeply into the unnerving, alluring soil of The Skein’s Cities and Eyes. The sonic chemistry of Jessica Constable and Andrea Parkins gives them undeniable voice in a whole new dark light.– Nels Cline

Un choc, assurément, que ce duo impossible à décompter tant il fourmille de créatures musicales. Disons pour situer les choses qu’on pense un peu à Wyatt et à Bjork, parce que ce sont des voix et des musiques fortes et que ce disque-ci garde quelque chose du format chanson sans la moindre concession, un peu comme si Brassens avait fait un disque avec Pierre Schaeffer et Leo Ferré. Les deux femmes nous emmènent dans des émotions que la musique improvisée donne rarement, plutôt associées à des formes plus simples, du rock à la chanson. Elles me comblent parce que leurs coqs à l’âne semblent des liaisons naturelles, elle découvrent sans se forcer de nouveaux passages, qui se referment derrière elles comme au passage des magiciennes.

- Noël Tachet, ImproJazz

2 titres à télécharger (son qualité CD) :

- Harrow

- Ides for two

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