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CD Reviews: Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus

Chiaroscuro

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2016, Bent Records
  • 2016, Bent Records

Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus Chiaroscuro

(2016, Bent Records)

Chiaroscuro finds two venerable experimental ensembles—the Woodstock-area vocal quintet Baird Hersey & Prana and Garry Kvistad's modernist percussion quartet Nexus—collaborating on two sequences composed by Hersey, the seven-section "Chiaroscuro" and the three-section "Vox Pulsatio." Hersey's ensemble—equally at home with Eastern vocal disciplines and with pop standards—includes two harmonic vocalists: Timothy Hill and Hersey himself. The mysterious, reedy, and enriched timbre associated in the popular mind with Tuvan throat singing is in effect all over Chiaroscuro. Nexus employs a large arsenal of instruments, but on this effort, the tuned and metallic kind prevails. All four members of Nexus do some time on the vistaphone, a set of chimes, invented by Kvistad, that is tuned to the harmonic overtone series. It thus features one strikingly undomesticated interval, the 11th partial, which falls somewhere between the fourth and the tritone.

Between the shimmer produced by a pair of harmonic vocalists and the decidedly non-Western wild card intervals of the vistaphone, you'd expect a fair amount of alien, Harry Partch-like dissonance on Chiaroscuro. In fact, this is predominantly tonal, minimalist music, colored by its subtle, non-Western tonalities but not defined by them. "A Splinter of Dawn" introduces a simple, meditative motif that returns in variations in each of the odd-numbered sections of "Chiaroscuro." The even-numbered pieces—notably the wonderfully active and discomfiting "The Dance of Shining Darkness"— are where these two ensembles with otherworldly timbres really engage in pattern and dialogue. PranaSound.com.

—John Burdick

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