Sub Rosa

Recorded in October 2005 at Bruxelles’ Mercelis Theatre, this album is Palestine and Conrad’s first meeting in 30 years. According to Palestine’s liners, his wife Aude was struck by the fact that, after all that time, it took less than five minutes for the two old friends to elicit “a natural musical chemistry of beauty and power” when they played together again.
The single piece lasts about 50 minutes and is sustained by a constant electronic drone which counterbalances the most raucous sections. Palestine and Conrad approach each other circumspectly, testing each other’s responsiveness via meditative piano arpeggios and sinuously dissonant violin lines that immediately show a willingness to break the tranquillity. Conrad’s avoidance of “clean” playing can be sublimely thrilling or (as one sound artist remarked) akin to “undergoing chemotherapy”. Yet even in the most jarring moments, he shows complete respect for the ritual of the moment, his verge-of-distortion lyricism clinging to Palestine’s hammered crescendos like a belltower’s shadow at sunset. The musicians raise their game until the music becomes riveting, full of scorching, abrasive power. In the midst of all this, Palestine breaks into shamanic chanting, which effectively adds to the ritualistic atmosphere, though his untrained voice has never appealed much to this writer (no, I didn’t like Karenina one bit). Still, the fervent crescendos here are utterly impressive and vital to the music’s success. Having reached its emotional apex, the music slowly descends into post-coital stillness; everything slows down, the vocals get less excited and more reflective, and it’s back to square one until the applause.
Overall, a pretty satisfying album. Conrad is more or less his usual self, but this nostalgic curmudgeon of a reviewer missed the soul-stirring halos of piano resonance of Palestine’s Strumming Music and Four Manifestations, to which I instantly came back after four spins of this CD. But that was truly music from other spheres, and not even Palestine (or Conrad, for that matter) can possibly match that radiance every time.

Advertisements