Intriguing, Suspenseful, Ecologically Relevant String Themes from Dana Lyn
You have to love this story: it’s so 1971. A boy crossing an icy river gets knocked cold by a flying carp. He wakes to find himself in a mysterious underwater grotto, where a mother octopus gives him a magic branch that enables him to swim underwater just like the rest of the many sea creatures he will meet on his journey. An ancient white whale then transports him to the ocean floor, where he eventually discovers a volcanic vent. The vent suddenly explodes and blasts him back above the surface, where he swims back to shore amid a snowstorm. His family, worried about him, eventually track him down; he presents them with the magic branch and then falls into a troubled sleep. That’s the eco-disaster parable (you can read the original version on the cd package) that violinist Dana Lyn seeks to illustrate on her new album Aqualude.
Unlike what the title might imply – if you read it a certain way – this is not a sleepy album, although there is a definite narcotic, psychedelic quality to it. The obvious comparison is late 70s King Crimson. Jonathan Goldberger’s guitar growls and spirals, albeit with less of a grim focus than what Robert Fripp typically employed during that era, while Lyn and cellist Clara Kennedy team up for atmospheric washes when they’re not providing ghostly or flitting accents alongside Mike McGinnis’ lyrical clarinet and bass clarinet and Vinnie Sperazza’s remarkably straightforward drunming.
The suite opens with a stomping, trickily rhythmic, distorted guitar theme that immediately kicks off the King Crimson comparisons. Moody cello builds to a circular, atmospheric theme, then a mysteriously tinkling, whispery miniature. The first series of variations on the opening theme dances and eventually spirals on the wings of the guitar, then goes atmospheric again. Lyn likes dynamics and uses them very counterintuitively, often suspensefully, in keeping with the storyline.
A twinkling loop rises to a sort of dance of the friendly aquatic animals, which turns more uneasy as the counterpoint between instruments grows more complex. Again, they swirl down to a nebulous miniature and then it seems they locate the volcanic vent: the jaunty guitar and drums against balmy strings build to a crescendo that’s less menacing than you might expect, followed by a slow, methodical, vividly pastoral theme. Spaciously ambient washes from the strings over echoey lows begin to pulse slowly, followed by a gentle blue-sky waltz that wouldn’t be out of place in the Bill Frisell catalog. This might be the subtlest eco-disaster album ever written, leaving plenty of room for the listener to reflect and fill in the blanks. As Lyn, a passionate advocate for the world’s oceans, says in her liner notes, we still have a long way to go towards cleaning up our act.
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