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Black Narcissus

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Album Review

Deeply esoteric, Mephista's Black Narcissus — released on avant-garde saxophonist John Zorn's Tzadik label — is an improvised product of Ikue Mori, Susie Ibarra, and Sylvie Courvoisier. The former is an electronic-based musician; the latter two are grounded on acoustic instruments (drums and piano, respectively). Despite these classifications, each specializes in sounds that little resemble their physical sources. Mori mixes in acoustic-based sounds — gurgling water, analog static, rushing wind, and many other things. Ibarra often creates disconnected sounds with her drums, making her cymbals sound like odd filters. Meanwhile, Courvoisier often uses her piano percussively, occasionally directly plucking its strings. Much of her playing is so "out" that when she actually plays the piano in a more traditional fashion, it almost sounds like a sample drawn from a foreign source. Taken together, the music on Black Narcissus is extremely free. Likewise, because of the dislocating effects of each of the musicians' techniques, the densely textured pieces are often hard to follow. After all, it is quite hard to derive what is going on in a piece if one cannot separate the various instrumental strands. As such, listening to Black Narcissus can be a confusing and trying experience. Each sound suggests something new, and all three musicians are wont to follow that impulse as quickly as possible. It is liberating and beautiful, but also so hyper that it is impossible to listen to with anything but rapt attention. Unless one commits fully to the disc, it will probably sound like an experimental annoyance. If one is willing to surrender, though, there is a rich world waiting.

Black Narcissus, Mephista
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