On their eponymous debut disc, the Italian duo Bespoken artfully straddles the worlds of ambient music and free improvisation. Though I am not familiar with either of the musicians involved, they are both quite accomplished. On this extremely brief (30 minutes long), but memorable CD, they show that they have forged a unique and intimate sound that is as engaging as any avant garde music I've come across in the past few years.
The instrumentation itself suggests a formula that dal Ri and Mimmo only occasionally refer to-– saxophone or piano soloing over a backdrop of electronically generated or electronically altered sounds. Though this is part of their modus operandi on several tracks, most notably 'Trafico,' 'Pigs,' 'Kids,' and 'Other Work', Mimmo often engages in a sort of call-and-response with dal Ri's sound environments that brings the latter into sharper focus. This is most powerfully played out in 'The Pixie Interlude' where Mimmo interacts with dal Ri's treated bird songs. Lorenzo dal Ri's subtle electronic treatment of Mimmo's saxophones and piano further blurs the line between musical background and foreground. The result is a continually shifting sound world-–a veritable musical house of mirrors and sound illusions. Listening on headphones significantly accentuates the surrealistic nature of Bespoken's music.
Mimmo is superb on soprano saxophone, and he demonstrates remarkable breath control on the overtone-filled 'Other Work'. On 'Pigs' and 'Kids,' a stylistic debt to Steve Lacy is evident, but doesn't dominate his playing. His piano playing on 'Trafico' is skeletal, melodic, with a Satie-like economy and delicacy. The live electronics consist mainly of real-time loops, skips, and other time-related alterations of dal Ri's environmental recordings. The recordings themselves come from a variety of sources - 'Traffico' uses sounds from a busy roadside; 'Pigs' and 'Kids' use samples of children having a playground conversation; 'The Tonespring Interlude' superimposes water sounds from fountains and streams; and 'The Rainshadow Interlude' sounds like it was recorded in a partly sheltered parking garage during a rainstorm. On the other hand, 'Residuals #1' and 'Residuals #2' use electronically generated sounds and real-time treatments and loops to interact with Mimmo's piano and saxophone.
The music on 'Bespoken' rewards concentrated attention-–in fact, the full artistic force of this fascinating CD didn't really hit me until I listened to it with headphones. Only then could I hear – and begin to make sense of - all of the incredible details and gestures in this music. Not really free jazz, and not 100% ambient, 'Bespoken' is the sort of CD that will appeal most strongly to the most open-minded listeners. Recommended!