I’m not sure what to make of Unduality, the new disc from pianist Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron on Accurate Records. This is one of the more conceptually ‘out there’ albums I’ve come across….cue the back cover blurb:
An astonishing, unprecedented union of organic Afro-Caribbean rhythms and fantastic reimaginings of Bach’s most familiar keyboard piece, the First Invention.
Yep, out there. The 23 mostly short tracks (only 4 exceed 3 minutes) alternate between Burk’s bent solo piano interpretations of the First Invention, Lebron’s sick overdubbed Latin percussion,
straight up African diaspora in action-Ewe percussion action at work in Lebron’s playing, no doubt
and duets (if you could call them that) between the two.
Burk throws the kitchen sink at his “fantastic reimaginations” of the First Invention by way of prepared piano, super dissonant reharmonizations, inverting the original lines, excessive ornamentation, warping the time, and occasionally pulling out the Moog. Think Tim Burton playing Bach.
I love Lebron’s playing, but I can’t hear much relation to Bach, or to what Burk is doing. Maybe it’s obvious, maybe it has nothing to do with Bach or Burk (postmodern collage?). Whatever it is it’s still cool.
To signify on that series of Smucker’s commercials from back in the day: “With a track name like “Unduality Six: Bach in the USSR,” (hip hop beats and Bach? Why not.) it has to be good.
Final thought: if Henry Louis Gates Jr (and others) are right, and that signifyin(g) is one of the key tropes in African American vernacular expression, and then by extension jazz expression since jazz is generally recognized as black music,
I’m not limiting signifyin(g) to a strategy strictly employed by African Americans here: 1. because Burk is white; 2. Lebron is from the Dominican Republic (hopefully it’s not naive on my part to say therefore Lebron is not African American); 3. even cultural critics as diverse in opinion and rhetorical strategy as Ellison and Baraka (more recently, especially in his 2009 collection Digging), argue that black music-and I’d argue all its expressive tropes like signifying-is a product of the American experience and shaped at least in part by white culture; and 4. if I limited it to African American expression my following comments/analysis would be sucky
then Unduality is about as straight up a jazz record as it gets, even if to some ears it doesn’t sound anything like jazz. How many music student nerds and band geeks out there have made terrible Bach jokes based on not-so-fantastic reimaginings of Bach’s name? Yeah, all of you, I know. Well, they’re here on Unduality in spades, along with the continuous signifyin(g) on Bach’s First Invention. Of course “Unduality Seven: Bach to Nature” would require bird calls.
P.S. This was the absolutely last thing I planned on writing about today. I’ve been promising the publicist for ECM that a review of Anat Fort’s new record would be up by now; but then I was listening to Howard Wiley’s new record yesterday and got a sweet idea for a new kind of jazz review, which I thought I’d do today; and then here I am offering up my take on one of the year’s weirdest but admitedly (sp?) highly enjoyable records. Oh well, that’s how I roll. Now on to some French feminist theory. Luce Irigaray anyone?
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