Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Chris Forsyth - "March" (Pax Recordings/Evolving Ear 2002, PR90256/EE04)
The Focus Quintet - "1-8 in 1" (Sachimay 2002, sca9357)

From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)

March is Ernesto Diaz-Infante and Chris Forsyth's third duo release and was recorded hot on the heels of finishing a European tour in early 2002. Though improvised in the studio, the recording is "a document of the concepts they honed together during numerous performances, train rides, conversations, and through collaborations with other musicians they met on that tour" (taken from promo sheet). The album consists of 13 tracks, most being concise statements in the 2-4 minute range, though there are a few opportunities to develop their ideas further. Ernesto plays acoustic guitar, piano, drums and voice and Chris plays electric guitar and piano.

The focus throughout March is on sound... sounds made by a musician setting up in the studio... mic feedback, those head pounding blasts from a jack plugging into the guitar, scratching along the strings... all these sounds when given center stage represent works in themselves. We also hear several "scratching" duets, though the tone and effect of each scratch is clearly given careful attention and mic noise, feedback, and human voice and breathing are important elements for coloring and embellishment. The musicians rarely get aggressive though one of the lengthier tracks does include harsher sounds, including noise chords on the electric guitar and even machinery, though these last but brief moments. And one of my favorite tracks on the album sounds like an aggressive noise chamber ensemble. There are also three improvised songs by Ernesto, which actually are "songs" in the sense that there is singing and lyrics. Pop music for the avant-garde?

In summary, March is a considerably more subdued work than Ernesto and Chris' previous release, Wires And Wooden Boxes, and demands even more attention than usual from the listener and presents greater challenges. Don the headphones when you're feeling open minded and adventurous.

Having soaked my ears in March, I moved directly on to another recent project involving Ernesto and Chris. 1-8 in 1 by The Focus Quintet features the duo playing in a similar style with the addition of Anita Dechellis on voice, Dan Dechellis on keyboard and piano, and Jeff Arnal on percussion. Like March, this is a sparse work, each instrument and voice making carefully considered contributions to the whole. Anita sings in a variety of styles that are both haunting and angelic. At times it has a semi-operatic quality and at others it's almost like a strange form of scat. And as you might expect the role of the voice is equal to the musicians rather than "fronting" them.

Sounds and their resulting tone and timbre are of paramount importance as is each knock and bang of percussion. Sometimes the performance space is quiet, making each sound from an instrument or voice distinct. At others a pulsating drone will create an imposing presence which the musicians are challenged to form an alliance with. The electronic wave on "Introduction" is mind-numbing while the organ on "Body" is a bit playful and would even be at home in a church choir. One of my favorite tracks is "Acknowledgments" with its chaotic percussion, powerful intermittent piano chords, and Ernesto and Chris covering more ground with their guitars than typically heard in a single tune. Together the ensemble creates sounds that are peaceful and disturbing... musical and grating. An enjoyable set and yet another challenging listen.

For more information you can visit the Pax Records web site at:
Contact via snail mail c/o Pax Recordings; PO Box 591138; San Francisco, CA 94159-1138.
Visit the Sachimay web site at:
Contact via snail mail c/o Sachimay Records; 34-50 29th Street 6C; Astoria, NY 11106.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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