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Mephista - Entomological Reflections [Tzadik - 2004]

From the eternal source of new music that is the Tzadik label comes Mephista, an all girl improvising super group consisting of  Sylvie Courvoisier on Piano, Susie Ibarra on percussion and Ikue Mori with her distinctive powerbook electronics.  The results are a fascinating blend of bewildering electronics driven excursions and piano / percussion led improvisations.

The first track La Femme 100 Tetes throws us straight in at the deep end with Mori’s skitting hyperactive electronics dancing to the fierce paced rhythm of Ibarra’s percussion . The second track, House is where Courvoisier enters with her piano. At times silky and atmospheric but also heading off into loud percussive flourishes when the mood of the other players allows it.
Most of the tracks seem driven by Mori’s never ending range of textures and rhythms between which the other two thread fine lines of sound. Cardiogram is rare exception to this where the piano leads the improvisation with a pounding atonal beat as the almost tribal percussion and light electronics turn summersaults all around. This track also highlights the lightning pace at which these three woman can react and follow each others directions. The piece can be moving along to a light ambient tone until Ibarra leaps in with a fierce percussive role behind which Mori will expel digital mayhem and Courvoisiers playing will drift to a thunder like low octave motif, all seamlessly interacting as if played from the tightest of scores.

Fans of the downtown scene who have heard the Cobra CD on Tzadik may hear comparisons with some of Mephista‘s music. All three players were part of that Cobra performance and fed off each others improvisations in a similar way in which they do with Mephista
It is difficult to pick out any particular stand out tracks as the album as a whole has a quite universal and consistent theme and feel. This is however not to say that the album is repetitive or samey. It is more like that of a large scale composition with many different movements.

If I were to pick out a couple of stand out moments it would be the albums more cinematic sections. Air being a particular example of this. Slow building, complex and with less of the staccato stop and start of the other tracks. The piano building tense waves of noise over Mori’s dense drones and static bursts while Ibarra produces a consistent and driving beat. It also sounds as if Courvoisier is playing the piano from the inside as she scrapes and twangs at the wires.  Sans Mots is another piece that displays a different formulae to the other pieces, being almost music concrete in composition. Sharp contrasts of texture from all three players, skitting and jump cutting all over the place. Leaping from ominous drone piano duos to deafening percussive workouts in a blink of an eye.  It almost sounds like an old cut and splice tape piece from the 60s, but played like free jazz (if you know what I mean).
Mephista are a trio of hugely talented musicians playing a form of music that is as contemporary as you are likely to find. Funny cover too.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Duncan Simpson
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