Artist Web site: www.kalimuse.com
(Review of 2 CDs)
In her 1980s work with Rafael Donald Garrett, Kali Fasteau exhibited an elephantine memory and a committed willingness to meld her North African roots with the avant compass settings of that time. She hasn't lost that ability on these two CDs, ONENESS of which (no pun intended) came out in 2003, and the latter in this year just past.
Settings updated, Ms. Fasteau reminds that there's very little she's not capable of: cello, saxophone, mizmar (an ethnic wind instrument with a sort of votive-flame sound), piano, percussion... one could go on, and with WAVES synthesizer is added to the mix (more about that shortly).
For all her tendency to experiment, mix and match, ONENESS has a friendly air about it, one of inclusion. You're clearly invited along for the ride, as opposed to being dragged onto the outer lip of one of Sun Ra's singularities, and on occasion being left to fend for yourself. Quite a ride Oneness is: blended together out of Fasteau's stint at the Vision Festival in 2001 and some studio sessions, the effect is a whole you can take entire or skip about in as CD technology allows. Bits will be somewhat familiar (note the swirling Tyneresque piano Fasteau favors us with in the opening tone poem "Beyond Words," performed with Mixashawn Rozie's nimble tenor sax and Newman Baker's literate trap kit. You know who she's paying tribute to but it doesn't intrude), and others emanate from somewhere entirely 'other' ("Night Canoe," featuring Fasteau and Rozie on flutes over Baker's talking drums). Fasteau modulates her voice through an effects box during 'Counterpart' while Marvin 'Bugalu' Smith's drum monologue keeps us reasonably close to earth.
One more observation about ONENESS: if you're familiar with Jon Hassell and his 1980s/90s 'Fourth World' experiments (melding African rhythm structures with South Asian melody), you might enjoy Ms. Fasteau's mizmar playing on "Elephants' Dance" and note how this entire CD would seem to find its foundation in that piece's air of celebration. Of course, any investigation of Fasteau's early 1980s work would intimate that she found the Fourth World some time before Hassell did.
(Full disclosure: Ms. Fasteau recommended yours truly for this reviewing gig some years back. All is forgiven!)
Did want to mention Ron McBee (djembe, percussion) and Okkyung Lee (cello) who liven up the proceedings as well.
MAKING WAVES continues along the same path; Fasteau's pace of expansion is carefully measured enough so that you can start your investigation of her work pretty much anywhere in her catalogue. The synthesizer is garnished in and doesn't swath and slath over everything like Dream Whip as we've sometimes heard other artists do when they first take up the instrument. The synth's most basic problem, I think, has been best described by British modern classical composer Tim Hodgkinson; chatting with THE WIRE in 1997 if memory doesn't swerve too badly, he had it that the synthesizer's ability to give total control over sound is a disadvantage. Often an instrument which does not offer some sort of resistance to its use, an instrument which forces the artist to work at it to get a desired sound, will afford a dead, artificial sheen to the music it ends up in. No fear! Fasteau makes the synth sweat a bit, nicely avoiding the Hodgkinson factor. The opening "Whalesongs," for example, does sport some synth pedal point but wisely Ms. Fasteau won't allow the tonal center to settle on a particular chord or chordal series so the sliding keys actually put one in mind of tides and deep waters. Which I would have to assume was the idea!
Fasteau's old compatriots; Bobby Few, piano; Sirone, bass; and Kidd Jordan, saxophone, join in for an always-shifting series of eclectic duets and the odd trio or quartet; Few's Satie-like control gives Fasteau room to soar in "Ocean Moonrise," and a harp-derived echoing forest of undulating needles set up by the synth in "Wind Caresses Water" does a similar 'solid' for Mr. Jordan's tenor.
In her usual fashion Ms. Fasteau keeps us in the air. And you'll be glad to be up there! It's a lovely view; patchwork, yes, seams showing, but it's real, and essential.
by Kenneth Egbert
New Sounds - October 2004
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