"Japhlet Bire Attias" CD - Japhlet Bire Attias

Japhlet Bire Attias - Chapman Stick®, synth, samples, programming
Haralds Bondaris, Greg Schutte, David Sellner, Kevin Washington - drums
Eliezer Freitas-Santos - congas, effects
Doug Little - bass clarinet, tenor saxophone
Stefan Kac - tuba
Kirsti Petraborg - viola
Matt Vanelli - guitar, synth

review by Greg Howard

I've given the new CD from Japhlet Bire Attias several spins now. Each time I make sure to have enough time to listen to the whole record because, even though each of the tracks is strong on its own, their cumulative effect really transports me into the very personal musical world of this surprisingly complete debut recording, most surprising because it comes from such a young musician.

Japhlet's CD follows a long line of albums of "Stick solos and duets", beginning with Emmett's own Parallel Galaxy, and continuing on through my own Shapes, Steve Hahn's sh, and most recently Marotta/Griesgraber's Waking the Day. This kind of record is a natural for the instrument, because of the broad-ranging 5ths accompaniment tuning, and because each hand can be a rhythm or lead line at any moment. While he respectfully wears his influences on his sleeve (most noticeably to my ear, Cides and Hahn) Japhlet's voice and style are distinctly his own. About half of the pieces are originals, and to his contemporaries most of the covers will undoubtedly be new experiences as well, though some will be very familiar to fans of 1970s progressive rock, or even late 1960s early 1970s film music. It's interesting to think about listeners hearing them for the first time from Japhlet's fingers, on The Stick.

Deftly exploiting the Stick's bass, melody and accompaniment capabilities, Japhlet sets the rythmic, harmonic and overall sonic context for each of the ensuing dialogues, pulling all sorts of sounds and parts from his 10-stringed orchestra. When more established ways of thinking about the instrument are not enough, he reaches for an alternative approach. Sometimes he's a acting in the role of "pianist." His spare, arpeggiated chords perfectly introduce and support Doug Little's languid and soulful bass clarinet on Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?" (1969). Sometimes he is a "synthesist," as on the opener, "An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove," where he layers all manner of melodic and percussive tones, each created using The Stick, but without the aid of synthsizers. In each case the treatment of the Stick is appropriate to the context of the piece. His muted strings recall the baliphone and bass marimba for French minimalist composer Yann Tiersen's "Comptine d'un autre été: l' après midi" (thanks for turning us on to this piece, Japhlet).

As two thirds of a "jazz power trio" on Giacomo Aula's "Conzone per Nino Rota" (for the famous Italian Godfather film composer) Japhlet's left and right hands engage in a passionate and agressive "tango" driven ever onward by Kevin Washington's brilliantly insistent drumming.

His solo version of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Trilogy" soars precisely, punctuated with brilliant flourishes. And he's not afraid to let things get a little funky and loose if the music calls for it, as on Chick Corea's "Señor Mouse," a duet with percussionist Eliezer Frietas-Santos. The record is sonically spectacular (kudos to Japhlet the producer). All of the attention that he has paid to his own sound, and the sound of all the other instruments has really paid off. His Stick is clear, brilliant and warm - deep, but not boomy. You can hear the influence of Cides in the way Japhlet reaches up into the Stick's highest range and then higher and higher. I won't say much more about the production, I don't want to give away Japhlet's little surprises. Transitions from one piece to the next are carefully crafted. And the material is nicely varied, but not jaringly so. All of this feels like taking a well-planned trip through a constantly changing and very beautiful mindscape, with plenty of surprises, all of them pleasant.

The CD closes with a cover of pre-Tony Levin King Crimson's early 70's LP title song "Islands." Echoing the moody serenity of the original, but without a word spoken, the theme again is provided by Doug Little, this time on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone. For this piece Japhlet becomes a "string quartet" providing counterlines, melody and spacious arpeggios. It's an ironic choice, considering how much people associate The Stick with Crimson, but it points to the musical focus that drives Japhlet's choices, as a composer, performer and producer. This record is not "about" The Stick, it's about the beginning, with Stick in hand, of one musician's epic journey into his art.

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