Sentient Beings...'recorded on September 23rd of 2022, the anniversary of John Coltrane’s birthday. John Coltrane was possibly the most influential Spiritual Jazz tenor saxist of all and a major inspiration for Paul Dunmall, as well as 1,000’s of other jazz, rock, classical musicians worldwide. Over the past decade, I’ve noticed that there are more & more string players who have the free and progressive music aesthetic like Mat Maneri, Jessica Pavone, Sarah Bernstein and now Faith Brackenbury. Mr. Dunmall and Ms. Brackenbury appear to be coming from a similar place and sound great interweaving their lines here. When Mr. Dunmall escalates into those intense Trane-like sheets, Ms. Brackenbury has no problems keeping up and bowing up a storm of her own. Mr. Brackenbury’s tone reminds me at times of Michael White, who used to play amplified violin with the Fourth Way and for Pharoah Sanders. The rhythm team are also powerful titans providing a throbbing whirlwind underneath. Ms. Brackenbury takes a long, slow inspired solo in the last section of the first piece here with Mr. Dunmall also carefully interweaving his own dreamy lines, the interaction focused and spirited. Mr. Dunmall and drummer Tony Bianco have worked together on a large number (around 20) of projects in the past and hence they sound like they have a long history. Bianco himself is an extraordinary drummer who seems to listen closely and interact instantly, trading and shadowing both frontline instruments as he and the bassist remain joined at the hip throughout. This entire disc is over an hour long and it kept at the edge of my seat throughout! - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
BIANCO BRACKENBURY Rising Up (Discus 112CD; UK) Talk about your dynamic duos. Drummer/bassist Tony Bianco and violinist/violaist Faith Brackenbury have pooled their talents to come up with one of the best such meetings in recent memory. Recorded in the spring of 2021, these three long pieces go a long way to demonstrating the pair’s collective psyche as they stormed the studio. Bianco’s pedigree is the sturdy backbone that anchors this recording: he’s lent his particular genius to recordings with such sterling colleagues as Paul Dunmall, Elton Dean, and Evan Parker, but his tenure in fusion outfit Machine Mass (alongside Dave Liebman) is what really gives this disc heft. Though relatively new on the scene, Brackenbury’s classically trained and talented as all get-out; it’s obvious there’s a telepathic sensibility these two share, evidenced by the powerful synergy fomented during this collaboration. Point of fact: they didn’t nick their disc Rising Up for just beer ’n’ skittles. During the thirty-one minute trajectory of the title track, the duo presage something of an acoustic mini-Mahavishnu Orchestra, Bianco’s shapeshifting percussive maelstrom (atop overdubbed bass) echoing Billy Cobham’s fire and brimstone, as Brackenbury whips up strokes of tornadic muscle in the finest Jerry Goodman tradition. The level of energy maintained across this expansive landscape is nothing short of breathtaking; Bianco manages to not only rock his kit into submission, he provides the essential blueprint from which Brackenbury spills wild, far-flung tonalities across cartographic oceans. Afterwards, “Gypsy Softbread” walks tentatively across the now-scorched earth, Brackenbury’s viola peeking its head out amongst Bianco’s probing cymbals, scattershot shakers, and weary snares, all to ponder how to navigate the vast emptyness left in their wake. Serenity now? Not exactly. The closing fifteen minutes of “Assassin” hardly lets its guard down. Bianco first teases us with some gently arousing surface noise, but his drumstrikes inevitably pick up a mighty head of steam, the better for Brackenbury to alternately sustain then attack; as she responds to her partner’s percussive downpour, her sharply-etched yet remarkably fluid linearity fairly sets the dance alight. Apparently, it only really does take two to tango. - Darren Bergstein, DMG
Brackenbury Bianco – Rising Up / Wayward Mystic
Faith Brackenbury‘s violin playing is an absolute force of nature; at times like a dervish that seems to sweep straight from her heart and out in to the universe, unencumbered by structure or regime, just a natural flow like a river that heads onward.
Her chance meeting with the jazz-inflected basslines and murmuring, rumbling drumming of drummer and bassist Tony Bianco has enabled a union that highlights the strengths that each one brings to this ever-unfolding partnership.
Their initial run of ideas was released last year as Rising Up and it was one of the most joyful and positive releases that I had heard. The thirty-minute title track and opener is full of wild, driven abandon, Faith’s violin like a kite on the longest string, sailing everywhere and anywhere while Tony’s bass holds things steady but lends a jazzy sensation. The drums roll and roil relentlessly, their cymbal-free agitation making like a distant storm, all snare attack and playful pursuit.
The violin moves in every way imaginable, its chattering thrill giving way to the highest, most keening moments before descending, swooping past you like a plummeting bird. It is the most vivacious and breathless half-hour and does rather make you fear for the players’ health. They must have needed a long lie down afterwards and in actual fact, the following track “Gypsy Softbread” is the antidote; another half-hour, but this time the violin is sinuous and slow, scarcely above a whisper at times, other times woozing and wafting like lazy bees.
Tony has more opportunity to add texture with cymbal wash and shaken bells adding to the gentle drum touches. There is space here and the violin moves through it, freed of all attachment, moving at will, followed by the deep resonance of toms. These tracks are two long cinemascope visions of what can be accomplished by a simple duo and reflect opposing views, a hugely different recipe with the same ingredients.
The final fifteen minutes is taken up by “Assassin”, which manages to thread the needle between the two extremes and send the listener into a final reverie.
Clearly this serendipitous encounter between them was too enjoyable to be a one-off ,so for something to really sink her teeth into, Faith chose to re-imagine some of Hildegard von Bingen‘s twelfth-century compositions in the duo context, this time with Tony adding drums and percussion along with some piano, while Faith brings violin, viola and effects.
Again it is one of those releases in which the listener becomes lost, because the eight pieces presented on Wayward Mystic stretch across two full discs, but never at any point do you feel that it overstays its welcome.
On the first disc, the feeling generated by Tony is akin to that of a tabla player with no cymbals and no wild uproar, just a constant rush like animals rustling in hedgerows or thunder off in the distance heard through a crisp autumnal sunset, while Faith’s violin once again wanders but like the antithesis of the lost soul. This is a soul who is open to everything, constantly engaging.
Through the ups and downs there is always a destination in mind, but that destination is in the heart; so the journey itself becomes the important thing. The percussion and strings are perfect complements, even when things turn keening and with an element of sadness, the percussion is able to move things on.
Faith’s voice when she tackles “O Frondens Virga” is a pure, unhurried thing and sets itself against a string drone that is aided by touches of cymbal that unexpectedly lift and soothe the extraordinary constant motion of the drumming. It becomes inexorable, like the landscape moving outside a train window and never grows old. The voice appears here and there over these four pieces and has a sweetness that slows the action down, drawing the focus, becoming restful and contemplative.
Where there are no drums, the strings take flight, becoming restless, searching and clucking, a little freer and because of that just a little disorientating. When the drums reappear, they are sharper, more obtrusive, hounding the violin, exploring all the intricacies held within the instrument.
The second disc is different, the strings more melancholy, the drums more structured. There is the snap of snare and the wash of cymbal that changes the mood, as if trying to overwhelm the violin or at least not give it so much space. The violin feels more uncertain while keyboards feel predatory. There are hints of Eastern folk in “Cherubim’s Sword”, which starts with just drums and then flies into a dervish like whirl, while the final piece here has the violin fed through what sounds like a wah-wah. It comes across like the tidal wash of a cosmic sea, ominous and cavernous with the rolling drums constant yet careful, setting us down gently yet unsettled, dizzy from the years passing before us.
It is a brave and ultimately successful exploration that manages to straddle almost a thousand years and shrink that gap to the blink of an eye. Time travel never felt so rewarding.
-Mr Olivetti- Freq