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Ben Bertrand - NCC 1999 [Les Albums Claus - 2018]

Ben Bertrand's "NGC 1999" is a largely solo recording of ambient improvisations with bass clarinet and electronics.  Though the title makes it sound like a live gig from 1999, it's actually a live (in studio?) recording from 2017.  "NGC 1999" is also not the release's catalogue number, as the album was released by Les Albums Claus, and the catalogue number is 'lac011'.

The dominant mode of composition on the album is the use of bass clarinet loops as a basis for additional soloing from the bass clarinet.  Though 'electronics' are listed in the liner notes, there are no synthesizer tones, and the electronics are used solely to manipulate the clarinet sound.  Analog delays are used on nearly all of the backing loops, creating a hypnotic staggered rhythm.

The album's primary influences seem to come from the 70's, with clear parallels to other ambient works which utilized processed instruments, such as Terry Riley's "A Rainbow in Curved Air".  This recording is not as exact as Riley's music or the work of Philip Glass, with more of a home made feel, but ultimately utilizes similar ideas of repeating melodic ostinati.  I could compare it to various works of Berlin School electronic music as well, as the percussive, punctuated tones of Bertrand's clarinet loops play the same role as the gentle rhythmic arpeggi which typically form the backdrop of Berlin School pieces.

The sweetly haunting, darkly tuneful siren song of his clarinet winds like smoke atop the sparse rhythmic skeleton.  Inwardly, we explore deserts and ancestral vistas.  Bertrand's expressive melodic choices are the soul of this record, that which allows it to rise above its rather basic technical aspects.  The mood he creates is epic and cosmic, a reflection of the eternal striving of life, an endless 'moving towards'.  Brooding thoughts emerge unpredictably from inky shadows.  Yes, this is a lonely trip, and one of with no guarantee of a happy ending.
The final piece "Post Scriptum to Valentina Tereshkova" is surely the most ominous, featuring desperate whispered voices from two female guest vocalists.  There is an intense feeling of dread and suspense which brings me back to vintage movies and the surrealist work of David Lynch.

This is a simple but effective album of haunted inner journeys relating to the mystery of existence and archetypal ancestral imagery.  The soothing yet eerie tone makes up it a great mood record, and the analog texture of the recording is quite ear pleasing.  Bertrand's intelligent melodic and harmonic sensibilities allow him to carry the momentum of the recording entirely on his own, sketching a soundtrack world of images on the mind's eye.

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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