Kraig Grady: Our Rainy Season / Nuilagi

On paper, Kraig Grady's latest recording, which includes two pieces, the fifty-minute “Our Rainy Season” featuring Jim Denley (bass flute, alto saxophone, wooden flute) and Mike Majkowski (upright bass) and the twenty-six-minute “Nuilagi” performed by metallophone players Grady, Erin Barnes, and Jonathan Marmor, certainly appears interesting enough. But when heard the recording turns out to be even more captivating than such details might suggest. For more than three decades, Grady has been involved in the formation of ensembles that use acoustic microtonal instruments (of his own design or modification) to explore interactions with particular environments and psycho-acoustical pitch phenomena. For this project, Grady treats the opening piece as “an internal reflection sifted through memories” and the second as a presentation of music played by the people of Anaphoria to give thanks for the rain.

It's the microtonal and pitch-related aspects of his work that emerges as a focal point in the longer piece, which proves to be a fascinating listening experience and holds one's attention despite its length. Denley and Majkowski were asked to improvise on single notes with extreme pitch accuracy (the tuning is apparently from Anaphoria and resembles a scale derived from the village of Mavila in Mozambique). The blended tones of the flutes are a dominant and persistent presence, but occasionally they drop away to allow the fluttering bass tones to move out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Just after the twenty-minute mark, Denley steps aside, and Majkowski's notes flutter like raindrops or hail bouncing off of a windowsill until the flute tones re-emerge, this time accompanied by Majkowski's bowing. The two generate no small degree of thunder and rumble during the performance and more often than not suggest a blustery wind octet more than duo. Even so, it's the experience of attending to the ever-so-slight gradations in tonality that, sounding on occasion like car horns blaring in a mid-town traffic jam in Manhattan, make the piece especially engrossing. The bright timbre of the metallophones immediately sets “Nuilagi” apart from the first piece, with the second conceived as a celebration of the rainy season's advance after the dry season preceding it. Though it's difficult not to be reminded of Reich when the metallophones play pulsating patterns, “Nuilagi,” a live recording, nevertheless turns out to be as mesmerizing as “Our Rainy Season,” if in slightly different manner; it certainly requires little effort on the listener's part to hear the shimmering tones as suggestive of pitter-pattering rain sounds. Grady here opts for somewhat of a peaceful mood that only makes the piece more appealing.

April 2011