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(Porto Franco 029 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/9/2011)
The notion of "experimental" music has been around for a long time. What once was experimental music sometimes becomes mainstream. But other such music is likely to remain on the fringes, even though it has potentially wider appeal.
This week we have a new CD by a group who even themselves describes their formation as being an experimental ensemble, but who have made music over a few years that is both fascinating from a musical and sonic standpoint, and quite yet quite listenable. Their name is Gojogo, and their new second CD is called 28,000 Days.
Gojogo is from a place hat has spawned a lot of so-called experimental music over the decades, San Francisco, and they have been together since about 2005. Their sound combines some violin, electric and acoustic guitar, Eastern percussion, including tabla, and some samples and loops. It's largely instrumental, though there are two vocal tracks on their CD, one with a guest singer.
Gojogo got its start from a collaboration between violinist Sarah Jo Zaharako and Elias Reitz, who is a sound engineer seeking to create new sonic textures. Reitz had traveled to India in 1990 to study Eastern philosophy and meditation, and was soon attracted to some of the instruments of traditional Indian music. Reitz brings some of those textures to Gojogo, and also performs sonic samples. Ms. Zaharako grew up in Ohio, starting violin lessons at an early age, and then went on to study at the Oberlin Conservatory. After graduation, she moved to San Francisco and attended Mills College, getting her Masters of Fine Arts. Rounding out the Gojogo are two who were recruited when the group set it sights on playing live, guitarist Roger Reidlbauer, and Eric Perney on bass, mainly acoustic bass. Perney studied classical and jazz bass at the University of Michigan.
Gojogo released their debut CD in 2006, and now five years later, they are out with 28,000 Days, which they explain, is the approximate average human lifespan. A group like this playing instrumental music in San Francisco that is well off the beaten path might seem a natural to collaborate with theater groups, and indeed much of 28,000 Days is a collection of music they created for theater pieces, dance and film scoring. They had received grants to create music that would be performed at the showing of some Russian animated silent films, and in 2010 collaborated with choreographer Kara Davis to create a music and dance performance called "Symbiosis" which was performed in San Francisco. So much of the music on 28,000 Days has a kind of theatrical or impressionistic quality.
In addition to the regular quartet, there are some added musicians brought in for certain pieces, including a regular drummer, a cellist, a tabla player, two woodwind players, and a guest vocalist who appears on one track. The latter, shall we say, underscores the group's strength as an instrumental ensemble.
The nearly hour-long CD opens with a piece called Tale of Tales. It's a lengthy composition that sounds as if could have been created for a dramatic or film work, with the sonic textures evolving and changing, from peaceful and pastoral <<>> to dark and edgy. <<>>
Rather more contemplative in sound is the appropriately named piece Ebb, which nicely highlights the combination of the different sonic textures of each of the members. The acoustic bass provides an underlying figure, while there is an interesting mixture of the electric guitar with the almost-classical sounding violin, and Eastern-inspired percussion. <<>>
While Gojogo's main thrust is their original music exploiting the eclectic blend of sounds, they perform a couple of pieces by other composers. Yekermo by one Mulato Astatke sounds like a piece the group would have done to accompany a dance production. <<>>
With violinist Sarah Jo Zaharako doing an odd, reverb-smothered vocal, is a track called Turbines another one of the group's compositions in several parts that moves from one texture to another. <<>>
Other other vocal comes on perhaps the oddest track on the CD, their version of the Rogers and Hammerstein song Bali Hai sung by Will Sprott, who gives it a kind of mutant lounge sound. <<>>
The title track 28,000 Days takes on a rather ruminating sound with droning strings and Indian percussion. <<>> Toward the end, it builds in momentum and seems to imply the reaching for something higher. <<>>
While Gojogo is mostly acoustic, guitarist Roger Reidlbauer can plug in and turn it up, which he does on one of the harder-edged tracks on this sonically varied CD, a piece called Firebird. <<>>
One the other hand, with a particularly atmospheric sound is God Doesn't Make Junk, with its lugubrious piano line and plaintive, vaguely exotic violin part. <<>>
28,000 Days, the new second release by the San Francisco quartet Gojogo is a fascinating recording of music that might well-be described by many as experimental. It certainly is difficult to categorize. It's hardly rock, not as improvisational or jazzy as fusion, and with its edgy, often unsettling mood, it's hardly new age. But for open-minded listeners interested in something a little off the beaten path, and which is often compelling in its own way, as well as being quite listenable, it makes for one of those recordings you may find oneself going back to, as it easily grows on one.
Our grade for sound quality is an "A-minus." The recording's dynamic range is fairly decent -- it was not badly compressed, but often the instrumentation has a vaguely distant, dark sound.
In the past few months, there have been several such interesting, hard-to-categorize mostly instrumental recordings, including by Glorie, Build, and High Fiddelity, ranging from alternative-rock inspired to quite atmospheric. Gojogo's 28,000 Days is particularly noteworthy.
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