An Enlightening Debut from Duo Noire

Duo Noire's debut recording for New Focus Recordings, Night Triptych, covers so many bases, and speaks so clearly to contemporary realities, that it immediately qualifies for several gold stars. But once you hear the sheer musicality of its premiere recordings of six new works for duo guitar, and how wonderfully they are played, you may be tempted to award the album several more.

For starters, Duo Noire is composed of two African-American men, both graduates of the Yale School of Music. Transcending the old New Music polarities of East Coast/West Coast, Christopher Mallett teaches at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-owns the California Conservatory of Music near San Francisco, while Thomas Flippin teaches on the other coast, at both Concordia College Conservatory and the Diller-Quaile School of Music in New York.

Aware that less than 5% of the music performed on many concert series and recordings is by women, Thomas and Christopher set out to right the balance. "We felt like classical music was impoverishing itself by not including the artistry of incredibly gifted women composers like the ones we collaborated with on this album, who we feel have made extraordinary contributions to our instrument," they explain in the recording's press release (but not, curiously, in the album notes.)

Their choice of composers reflects more than their commitment to equality between the sexes. Grammy-nominated, Rio de Janeiro-born Clarice Assad (b.1978) is a Brazilian-American who has had commissions from Carnegie Hall and Chamber Music at Lincoln Center; Mary Kouyoumdjian (b.1983) is an Armenian-American with commissions from Carnegie Hall and Kronos Quartet; New Orleans native Courtney Bryan (b.1982) is an African-American whose music has been performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and Symphony Space to the fabulous Ojai Music Festival; ECM Records artist Golfam Khayam (b.1983) was born in Tehran to a family of artists and plays both classical guitar and Persian setar; Gity Razaz (b.1986) was raised in a family of physicians in Tehran and emigrated to the US in her teens before becoming a Composer-in-Residence at National Sawdust in NYC and receiving commissions from Jeffrey Zeigler of Kronos, Ballet Moscow, and the Seattle Symphony; and Gabriella Smith (b.1991) is a white woman from the Bay Area whose compositions have been performed by Eighth Blackbird, Band on a Can All-Stars, and more.

Anyone who is tempted to think that Night Triptych is mostly concerned with political correctness owes it to themselves to listen to these commissions. For compositions written solely for two guitars (or, in the case of Kouyoumdjian's "Byblos," guitars plus prerecorded back-up), the depth, variety, and range of colors is astounding. While the fact that I am just getting to know the amplifiers that have just entered my system leaves me reluctant to discuss the recording's sound quality in detail, I am quite impressed with its timbral range, air, and depth.

The music of Night Triptych is less about melody per se than about texture, atmosphere, and feeling. Auditioned via 24/96 files that are available from HDTracks, the performances are extremely tactile and sensual.

To say that each composition creates a world all its own only begins to tell the tale. You can get a surface sense of the nature of some of the pieces from the titles. "Hocus Pocus" (Assad) explores the magical effects of sound; "Byblos" (Kouyoumdjian) takes its name from an ancient Lebanese City; "Soli Deo Gloria" (Bryan) is a gospel- and jazz-infused journey through prayer; "Night Triptych" (Khayam) reflects the influence of contemporary classical and Persian ethnic music; "The Four Haikus" (Razaz) instructs the performers to approach its sections as either operatic recitatives or arias; and "Loop the Fractal Hold of Rain" (Smith) invokes interlocking loops and patterns and textures and rain via all-enveloping minimalism kinda sorta.

There's a goldmine of ideas and feelings here, whose riches will unveil themselves more and more over time.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Duotone :-) .......... Album cover? :-) .........

avanti1960's picture

for bringing this recording to our attention.
Picking this one up because it reminds me of one of my favorite recordings of all time - "Tributaries", Larry Coryell with John Scofield and Joe Beck (1979). "Tributaries" features a trio of acoustic guitars and I like it because it is melodic and tuneful without the hyper vigilnant playing common to many jazz and fusion releases of the day.
Hopeful that "Night Triptych" will offer similar enjoyment.

cgh's picture

The entire Assad family is very talented. I've had the privilege to hear and meet them and play some of (his) works.

DH's picture

Am listening on Tidal and will probably buy the download.
Reminds me in some places of Egberto Gismonti records from the 70's.
That's a compliment.

Allen Fant's picture

Very Nice! JVS
I will add this title to my must buy list. I will second, as above, "Tributaries" guitar trio disc.