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Review from Winter 1998 (Volume 22:4) of Computer Music Journal

Qwire: Qwire

Available from Qwire; P.O. Box 452, Grafton, MA 01519 or order online here.

Reviewed by Teresa Marrin Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

This fresh and lucid album is a must-listen for those who are interested in fusion and jazz. Qwire defines a unique space that might be described as a cross between the styles of Shakti, Frank Zappa, and John Zorn, with an ethnic funkiness, a hint of techno, and a healthy dose of experimentation. This 64-min self-titled album features the tight, focused percussion of Muruga Booker, the inspired electric violin and bass playing of Barry Hall, the imaginative electric guitar and guitar synth solos of Fred Malouf, and the support of both Stanley Jungleib on keyboards and Chris Chafe on electric cello (celletto). Most of these musicians met while working and studying at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) in 1993, and all the tracks were recorded live at Stanford University's digital studio. Fred Malouf produced the album, and recording, mixing, and mastering was done by Jay Kadis.

Low Pressure epitomizes Qwire's balanced, unique fusion, featuring a driving rhythm that shifts between traditional drum-set playing and more experimental world sounds. This is done in an extremely articulate and tasteful manner while adding strength to the melodic layers. The piece begins with a long, evolving meditation in the rhythm section. After a few minutes, a wailing solo violin enters, slowly becoming more shrill with the addition of noisy effects. The sound is reminiscent of L. Shankar's fusion playing, with a strong emphasis on the extremes of the timbral range. Barry Hall flails a bit in the lower register, but the overall effect is not lost. Fred Malouf interjects with a nice counter-solo, which is answered by a pounding motif in the rhythm section. The violin returns with a more contemplative solo, and the piece ends abruptly with a few rhythmic guitar chords.

Miles begins tunefully, with a synthesized flute sound soloing over a layer of relaxed synthetic orchestral sounds. Slowly, an electric bass line floats to the surface, propelled by a spinning internal energy. This is replaced by a more driving acoustic bass/drum riff that alternates from the surface level to less obvious levels for the remainder of the piece. This riff forms a kind of passacaglia or lehra, whereby its constant repetition creates the basic unit of the metrical structure and gives the prominent lines a kind of reference backbone. This is occasionally punctuated by repetitions of the initial electric-guitar line. The effect is mesmerizing and suggestive of world music. An unearthly guitar solo enters, followed by a violin solo that seems to he on timbral-effects steroids. This is ultimately followed by a trumpet solo that sounds partly synthesized and partly sampled from Miles Davis's trumpet. This is followed by a long elaboration with contributions from rhythmic guitar and reprises of earlier solos. The violin enters again near the end with a rising line up to the clouds. While the piece occasionally disappoints particularly in its use of synthesized sounds), it redeems itself with a fantastic ending, in which the passacaglia riff in the bass fades away in a flourish of ethereal chimes.

Miyar and Aideen starts out extremely minimalist in style; for almost a minute, the only activity is provided by a few passing ambient noises, mast notably the same chimes with which Miles just ended. This effect perfectly prepares the ear for Sile O'Modhrain's elegant Irish voice reading the heraldic tale of Miyar and Aideen with weight and dignity. The story is perversely interesting, replete with royal lovers turning into huge, writhing worms and the like. (The question of the authenticity of the tale seems a moot point, given its dramatic interest!) After a few minutes, the band enters with a delicate touch to support and complete the piece. The overall effect is subtle and gentle, if a bit weird and disquieting.

Local On seems to be about flowing, ambient sound effects, in some ways reminiscent of pieces on Paul Lansky's Homebrew. It starts with a bird call, followed by a kind of improvised rhythm from found percussion sounds. This is peppered with random interjections of violin riffs and bird calls. Slowly, a rhythm coalesces, providing a kind of activity and flow. Suddenly it disappears, and the whole piece relaxes into a contemplative wash of sound, featuring rhapsodic guitar chords, string tremolos, and noisy samples. This goes on for some time, gradually building up speed and form. Finally a Shimmering texture is achieved that converges to the supertonic; this segues directly into the last piece on the album.

Synthphony continues straight out of Local On, with a bit more harmonic filling. Rhythmically it lacks some direction, and achieves a kind of static ambience. After 5 min, it suddenly shifts to a heavy, rap-style beat pattern, with looped rhythmic samples. A violin interrupts with jagged commentaries, ripping the cover off of the sound. Live drums then slowly enter, giving drive and grammar to the violin's violent musings. The guitar joins in for a solo that is reminiscent of Steve Vai. This is followed by a kind of free-form improvisation featuring the violin and cello, during which the rhythm slows down again. A final fanfare-like guitar solo finishes out the piece, over a layer of tremolo strings.

Overall, this album is extremely fun to listen to; Qwire clearly demonstrates itself to be hip, energetic, and packed with attitude. I look forward to hearing future contributions from this eclectic and promising band.

Used with permission of Computer Music Journal

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