Even in moments of clarity, one comes across rough spots that won’t seem to go away. Similarly, in times of chaos, glimpses of lucidity stand out like meteors against the night sky. In both circumstances, those anomalies often prove to be highly instructive—each a learning moment that may be cultivated only through years of introspection. Such is the humbling opportunity of opening one’s ears to the sonic constellations of Aging. This collaboration between Lucie Vítková and James Ilgenfritz places the latter’s contrabass in the former’s compositional matrix.
Across seven parts, nominally distinguished only by consecutive Roman numerals, the experience unfolds fractally: the closer one gets to an intriguing detail, the more one recognizes the supporting patterns that gave it context in the first place. And while Ilgenfritz plays his instrument with fingers and bow, Vítková’s meticulous preparations and electronic integrations allow the digital soul of its acoustic body to breathe beyond its cage. Hints of sirens resound like voices struggling against a historical silencing, as if the very weight of the past were cause for emergency. And yet, within that tautness is also hope and, perhaps, victory over the tectonic shifts of human error, made palpable when Ilgenfritz sheds his technological clothing (as in “IV”), standing naked before the mirror of time and singing for no other honor than the act itself. But then, there are passages (as in “V”) during which the bass seems barely to breathe in the stasis of self-awareness. And if the more jagged figurations articulated in “VI” jump out with contrast, it’s only because being given something to wield and interpret is a tradition to which we’ve become socially averse.
This is, perhaps, why one cannot help but hear in this grinding a way of speaking that feels even more organic to us in 2021 than when it was recorded in 2016. Wandering inside this veritable hurdy-gurdy of introspection, we cling not to the promise of escape but to the reality of knowing how much work needs to be done to listen.
(This review originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)