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Kyle Motl - Transmogrification [Metatrope - 2017]

Kyle Motl is an American free jazz contrabass player who has released numerous recordings in past few years.Transmogrification is a daring hour long, 15 track album of improvised solo playing.  The liner notes state that no editing or electronic processing was done to the music.  There is nothing but the naked sound of the acoustic instrument.

This album is for those with attention span and imagination, who indeed manage to hear worlds in the spaces between the fleshy slaps of fingers hitting wood.

The music can initially sound arrhythmic, directionless or carelessly strewn about, flopping and whimsically meandering through disconnected volleys and bursts.  When I got into a patient enough space to really hear the album, I heard a restless outpouring of ideas, some of which are even quasi-melodic, rapid scalar rushes quickly abandoned in favor of other fragementary glimpses.

Motl is undoubtedly agile, capable of cleanly plucked tones and a wide dynamic range.  He refuses, however, to dwell on any idea for longer than a couple seconds, or play anything that would provide conventional musical satisfaction.  As such, some will not recognize his technique.

Novel techniques of sound creation are increasingly used as the album progresses, reedy fluttering and prepared harmonic percussion in "Urrong", use of a bow in "Ax[i]on".   At times we hear sounds so shrill and bleating that it's hard to believe they aren't coming from a saxophone or other wind instrument.  He is an unusually aggressive contrabass player.  Listening to a piece like "Skrull", I worry the entire body of his bass is on the verge of splintering into pieces.  Groaning and rattling wood is more audible at times than the metallic qualities of the strings.

At times, it seems he's tuned his strings so low as to be slack, sub-octave clattering.  The title of 5th piece, "Thwombulous", is perhaps a fitting adjective to apply to the sound of the entire album, the track itself much like the insistent whine of a bumble bee, created hear with the buzz of a partially muted string.  His tones are ear pleasing and earthen.

He has a particular fondness for harmonics, evident in pieces like "Scintillionic" and the aforementioned "Ax[i]on", and the clearest melodies of the album appear via this vehicle, haunting gamelan alternations sweeping up and down the resonance spectrum.  The way he dwells on these tones recalls saxophone player Mats Gustaffson.  I think they would sound marvellous in collaboration.

A meditative state of mind gradually takes hold after long periods of attempting to absorb what is happening here.  Though its approach is bare bones, the world of possibilities within Motl's instrument seems to open all the wider of the course of the hour. Transmogrification has a lot of enduring listenability and value, new moments and ideas highlighted each time I attempt to navigate it.  The texture of the album is subtle and deep, a physically pleasurable experience.  If it has any flaw, it would be a lack of longform progressions, due to its general restlessness, which could be tempered a bit more often.

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

Josh Landry
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