Alder & Ash: Clutched In The Maw Of The World / Psalms for the Sunder
Lost Tribe Sound

No, Alder & Ash isn't two people; it's Adrian Copeland only, even if his playing on these companion recordings does sometimes sound as if two cellists are performing. Though the music could fit onto a single CD, the material has been issued as separate releases; while such a move might be irksome to hardcore environmentalists, it does allow for a more digestible presentation of the Alder & Ash project. There is a rationale that supports releasing the material in separate volumes: Psalms for the Sunder was self-released in 2016 by the artist but, deemed by Lost Tribe Sound to have been unjustly overlooked, has had new life breathed into it by being re-presented in a handsome, booklet-styled design. Clutched in the Maw of the World, on the other hand, is new material making its way into the world for the first time.

The recordings feature nothing but solo cello, though Copeland often establishes a basic rhythmic foundation over which layers of solos and melodic themes accumulate; analogically, the base functions a little bit like a metronome in the way it lends stability to the playing that blossoms alongside it. “A Seat Amongst God and His Children,” from the later recording, exemplifies the approach handily. Having established a repeating rhythmic ground for the setting, Copeland shifts the focus to a lead part that sees the playing segue from plaintive restraint to gut-wrenching histrionics. A remarkable range of sounds is coaxed from the instrument in the albums' settings, with extended techniques exploited to their fullest in service to his vision. Moments of elegance are supplemented by aggressive fury, with bowing, strumming, and pizzicato playing augmented by percussive effects, string scratching, and other treatments.

Being solo cello material, the listener naturally presumes that stylistically it will be modern classical in nature and perhaps ultra-refined in its presentation; such a presumption isn't wrong necessarily—certainly classical is part of the mix—but it's hardly the whole story. There's a pronounced rawness and heaviness to the material that suggests it has as much in common with Black Sabbath as Bizet. Many a cellist populates today's new music scene, yet few play in such a way that words like doom, drone, and black metal become part of the conversation. In that regard, it's only natural that a track should carry the title “At Night in the Slaughterhouse”—not the kind of thing one might confront on the latest Yo-Yo Ma collection. And that grime-covered bass pulse that opens “The Great Plains of Dust” could be one executed by Geezer Butler in a rather different context.

The deeply textural sound worlds Copeland generates are striking, but as critical to the material's impact is its emotional dimension. Whether it be a track on the half-hour Psalms for the Sunder or the forty-two-minute Clutched in the Maw of the World, each piece offers a vehicle for an intense outpouring of expression, whether it be joy, desolation, rapture, or loneliness. To a near-palpable degree, “At Night in the Slaughterhouse” oozes sorrow as it advances from restrained expressions of despair to full-blown anguish; the lush presentation of “Ikejime,” on the other hand, offers a veritable invitation to swoon.

That aforesaid doom-metal character surfaces repeatedly, whether it be during the tribal incantation “Children of Gomorrah” or the bleak “All His Own, the Lord of Naught”; in such cases, the cello groans and convulses, Copeland wresting from it the rawest of sonorities. By comparison, the funereal meditation “Clutched in the Maw of the World” and perhaps the albums' most beautiful settings, “The Merciful Dawn” and “The Glisten, the Glow,” capture a gentler, more delicate side of the Alder & Ash persona. Notwithstanding a slightly larger share of restrained moments on the newer set, there's little profound difference in quality or style between the albums that I can discern, but that's hardly a knock against them; being so alike, they form a naturally complementary pair.

July 2017