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Emily Hay/Brad Dutz/Motoko Honda/Wayne Peet
Polarity Taskmasters
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Emily Hay's music always makes me laugh - in pure pleasure, but also because it avoids the agonised Schrei of so much vocal improvisation in favour of light, witty syllabizing that flirts with meaning even as it celebrates delightful nonsense. It wouldn't surprise me to find her one day voicing a range of characters for Pixar or, like Polarity Taskmasters's producer/guest organist Wayne Peet, turning out sardonic soundtracks for mainstream movies. She's well placed for Hollywood, having co-presented the admired Trilogy strand for LA station KXLU-FM.
Previous CDs for pfMENTUM and Public Eyesore saw Hay strike a nice balance between her personalised form of post-Joan La Barbara vocal acrobatics and a highly vocalised approach to flute playing that often flirts with impressionist and high modernist classical models. There's a virtual quote from Prélude À L'Après-Midi D'Un Faune near the start of Polarity Taskmasters. The new disc is pretty much a follow-up to 2007's trio recording with Peet and percussionist Brad Dutz, whose small-scale struck objects always sound like part of a consistent instrumental voice, a kind of mini-Californian gamelan. Complementing that impression here is pianist/FX collaborator Motoko Honda, whose duo work with Hay is always particularly close and empathetic. Though there's nothing here that quite matches the heights of "Hot Japanese Water", "A Lotta T's" and "Possum" on the trio date, or the sheer bravura of 2005's "We Are" with Marcos Fernandes, but it's a more consistently satisfying record than either, perhaps because Honda stitches together the sound in a new way. Peet's organ and theremin parts tend to prettify. Honda keeps things edgy and uncertain. Hay's gift is that she can use the well-established cliches of 'extended' vocal performance - Queen of the Night top notes, dressing room warm-up routines, 'mad scenes' and invented languages - and not just turn them to generously satiric purpose but also reinvest them with both technical authority and considerable warmth. More than ever, there is an easy continuity between her singing and her flute playing. Elisions and transitions are blurred. And as the record progresses, the group functions ever more confidently as a single voice, enforcing a common idiom for its East/West, classical/free polarities. The Southern Californian avant garde has never sounded quite so communicative.

Brian Morton

BRAD DUTZ / EMILY HAY / MOKOTO HONDA With Guest WAYNE PEET – Polarity Taskmasters

Posted: April 19, 2011 | Author: touchingextremes
Review in April 2011 Edition of Touching Extremes by Massimo Ricci

The eight improvisations carried out by this trio (enlarged to a quartet in three tracks, thanks to the addition of Peet on organ and Theremin) are critical, refined and vivid, music that mixes ingenious intuition and lucidity with the classy awareness that only those who have been committed to a scrupulous evisceration of an instrument can bring to the table. Sounds and ideas that float, then suddenly drop right into our mechanisms of acquaintance. Absorbed, instantly retransmitted and not just supposed, combining metrical components of disparate proveniences and on-the-spot counterpoints enriched by indispensable doses of paradox. The latter is typically provided by Hay’s surprising gamut of expressions recalling creative master vocalists such as Shelley Hirsch and Kira Vollman, marvellously in evidence in “March Of The Id”. Not to mention one of the most ornate flute tones of the West Coast, seamed through charming designs where Dutz’s shrewd percussive fractals and Honda’s attentive decentralization of chordal structures sparkle of uncommon intelligibility even in presence of elaborate developments (“Sinking Anchor”) and primordial influences (the conclusive “Entrenched”). Certain records require a surplus of energy from the listener, replete as they are with gratuitous complications translatable as ego gratification. Polarity Taskmasters stands at the exact opposite pole: the will of involving and, in a way, simultaneously explaining to an audience what’s going on is reflected by a communicative program, rich in configurational comprehensibility and timbral attractiveness and exalted by the superb recording quality.

Copyright © 2003 by Emily Hay. All rights reserved.