Clarice Jensen, "For This From That Will Be Filled"

Sunday, 22 April 2018 00:00 Anthony D'Amico Reviews - Albums and Singles
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I can think of few other artists who have amassed a body of work as impressive as Clarice Jensen before releasing their debut album, as she is the artistic director of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble  (ACME) and has appeared as a cellist on albums by a wide array of great artists (William Basinski, Bjork, and Jóhann Jóhannsson among them).  The late Jóhannsson, in particular, is a solid reference point, as Jensen's vision shares a lot of common ground with Fordlandia's blend of neo-classical grandeur and contemporary experimentation.  In fact, the man himself surfaces here as Jensen's collaborator on the opening "BC," which is one of several intriguing collaborative threads that run throughout the album.  Unsurprisingly, that piece is absolutely gorgeous, yet it is Jensen's two-part solo composition that stands as the stands as the album's towering centerpiece.

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This album was first conceived as a collaborative multimedia endeavor with artist Jonathan Turner, who created four elegiac and hauntingly beautiful black and white films to complement these pieces.  The combination of those films with Jensen's work is admittedly quite mesmerizing and powerful, yet the album on its own does not feel incomplete, nor does it feel like a soundtrack.  I am guessing that the music must have come first, though Turner’s languorously dreamlike trips through endless empty hallways is admittedly a relatively blank slate for a composer.  In any case, both the films and Jensen's music evoke a profound sense of bittersweet melancholy that is simultaneously majestic and haunted.  The lush, glacially swelling cello moans of "BC" are particularly effective at mining that vein of achingly beautiful sadness, as are dreamily swooning strings that drift over the top of it like slow-moving clouds.  The central theme is certainly strong enough to have stood out as a highlight on any of Jóhannsson's own albums, yet "BC" feels more like a sublimely hypnotic infinite loop than a composition, steadily flowing along without much change until it finally disintegrates into a wobbly and submerged-sounding shadow image of itself.  The following "Cello Constellations" is a bit of a departure from the rest of the album, eschewing the sweeping romanticism and strong melodic component of the other pieces for more of a drone-based approach that incorporates sine tones.  That aesthetic detour makes sense though, as "Constellations" was composed by Michael Harrison for Jensen rather than by Jensen herself.  It is a bit less immediately gratifying than the other pieces, as it lacks their melodic strength and emotional heft, yet it compensates somewhat by being more overtly experimental and harmonically complex.

The last half of the album is devoted to Jensen's two-part tour de force, "For This That Will Be Filled."  The first part is quite brief, clocking in at mere five minutes, yet that brevity is entirely appropriate given its churning and volcanic nature.  In a sense, it could be considered yet another drone piece, as it has a shifting foundation of sustained cello tones and a spectral haze of overtones and lingering delay, yet it is very easy forget that that structure is even there, as it is being continually strafed by densely fluttering and swooping masses of arpeggios.  It kind of feels like trying to appreciate a lovely garden, then being dive-bombed by a flock of supernaturally immense predatory birds.  As such, it is quite a satisfyingly explosive and dynamic piece, perfectly condensing all of its firepower into a sustained and intense catharsis.  The second half that emerges from its ashes is a considerably longer and more complex composition, acting as a culmination of sorts that synthesizes all of the album's previous threads into a single powerful package.  It opens as a slowly throbbing drone reverie, albeit one with a bit of a grinding, metallic sheen.  Gradually, however, it blossoms into darkly billowing chord swells as a melancholy cello melody languorously unfolds.  That theme eventually gives way to quite a lovely interlude, however, as a slow-moving and heavenly motif of groaning cello swells appears amidst an undulating haze of floating harmonics.  It is absolutely lovely, yet Jensen treats it as a mere starting point, unleashing a gorgeously churning and snaking cello solo as the backdrop slowly fades away.  That turns out to be the album's final transformation and it is an absolutely heavenly one, as the final moments of the album cohere into a coda that is both gently hallucinatory and warmly, organically intimate, as Jensen's undulating arpeggios leave a fluttering and spectral trail and a mysterious voice gently reverberates in the distance.

Given Jensen's pedigree, it is not at all surprisingly that she has such a wonderful and distinctive vision, nor that it is executed with such an unerring hand.  Even so, I was still caught off-guard by how much this album exceeded my expectations: the beautiful moments are rapturous and the darker plunges are wonderfully visceral.  Also, more subjectively, I simply love the sound of a bowed cello when it is in the right hands, as its deep, warm, and woody resonance makes every note feel poignant and timeless.  My only faint critique of For This From That Will Be Filled is that it feels more like a collection than a planned album with an arc of thematically linked pieces.  That makes sense, given that there are three different composers involved, but it is definitely a collection packed with absolutely sublime work: “BC” is 12-minutes of lushly languorous heaven and the title suite is on a plane all by itself.  There is a lot to love here, as Jensen has a strong gift for melody, an unerring intuition for dynamics and density, and a healthy sense of experimentation, augmenting her cello's natural sounds with an array of pedals and tape loops to vaporously dreamlike effect.  It is truly rare to encounter such an inspired and pitch-perfect blend of romanticism, depth, and elegantly hallucinatory production flourishes.  This is a legitimately amazing debut.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 April 2018 07:59