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This Is Not a Clarinet

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Album Review

Evan Ziporyn is the clarinetist in the Bang on a Can all-stars. This is his first solo clarinet record. It doesn't sound like any other solo clarinet record ever made because we've never heard an approach to the instrument quite like this one. While other great musicians have learned odd fingerings and different modes of breath control when exploring the seemingly limited reach of the instrument, Ziporyn took those limitations as a license to go further and expand the timbral, tonal, and mechanical reaches of the instrument into entirely new terrains. He does so here by use of variant tonguing techniques like tongue slapping, extended vocal techniques that are pushed trough the instrument as it is being played, his use of microtonal invention learned from Joe Maneri's pioneering studies and the use of multiphonics (being able to play more than one note at a time on woodwind), a technique previously thought impossible. Ziporyn brings a long and varied background to his approach to the instrument from leading a gamelan ensemble and having studied Balinese music to working with Steve Reich and the Ensemble Modern. He's also played pop with Paul Simon. But none of that matters when it comes to actually listening to this intriguing, mesmerizing album. Using alto, B flat, and bass clarinets, Ziporyn creates aural soundscapes that feel like travelogs to the listener. From the long bass clarinet piece, "Partial Truths," which opens the album, Ziporyn is musically exploring the inside of the instrument to make it sing, he's not so much trying to get sound out, but to put it in and see how it circulates through. It's haunting, pleasing, and addictively listenable. He follows this with "Four Impersonations" of music from Bali. It's a small suite that goes outside the Western scale, or appears to, to reach for tonalities and chromatic elements not usually heard in the West at all, let alone from the clarinet. In sum, This Is Not a Clarinet is a treasure trove of wonderment and a linguistic miracle for the language of Western music. That this disc will be pivotal in changing the language for the instrument in the near and distant future.

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