Composer Keeril Makan’s intriguing and diverse collection of works, titled Target, has been out for awhile on Starkland. Minimalist yet often absolutely massive, the pieces follow dramatically divergent trajectories. The instrumentals rise and fall, sometimes almost imperceptibly but occasionally explosively, the percussion of the Either/Or ensemble and David Shively featuring most prominently in the arrangements. There’s also a potent and politically spot-on suite of vocal pieces utilizing text which poet Jena Osman created from propaganda leaflets dropped into Afghanistan during the Bush Regime’s invasion. It’s a good bet that listeners with the sense of adventure necessary to fully enjoy this album will scatter these tracks throughout several different playlists, considering the differences between them: with its whirring overtones, the half-hour concluding piece, Resonance Alloy makes a great choice for a chillout mix, while the abrasive, keening, sometimes howling solo cello piece Zones d’Accord has the opposite effect.
The opening track, simply titled 2, is the only one of the instrumentals where the melody moves around to any great degree, and that’s only when the marimba comes in bubbling against Shively’s cymbals and Jennifer Choi’s violin atmospherics. On the other hand, the title suite of five skeletal yet sharply rhythmic songs has singer Laurie Rubin leaping in and out unpredictably, the perfectly unwavering, staccato outrage in her voice channeling the mystified shock the Afghanis must have felt as they read how Bush’s bombs falling out of the sky were just one more example of how the U.S. was there to help them. Makan and Rubin, and the ensemble California E.A.R. Unit deserve props for bringing these important works to life so evocatively.
Perhaps because it’s a scrapy, raspy piece, Zones d’Accord is recorded very quietly – so when it suddenly grows loud, it’s jarring. If that’s the effect the composer wanted to create, cellist Alex Waterman delivers that extremely successfully; however, those with headphones should be on alert. It’s definitely a wakeup call! The first track follows an elegant, mathematical architecture with the occasional allusion to jazz before finally collapsing on itself at the end in a splendid display of violence; the last is viscerally mesmerizing. How Shively managed to stay on track and maintain its perfect, pointillistic pulse without being hypnotized by the swoosh, and hum, and eerie whine of the overtones flying from his cymbals and gong is a genuine feat. Did he record this in segments? Are there overdubs? It’s impossible to tell. While the brushstrokes fall fast and precise, the swells from atmospheric to oceanic are almost unnoticeable until suddenly it’s apparent that the waves have risen and then come crashing in with a stately intensity.