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CD Review: If, Bwana 

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If, Bwana Assemble.Age!
(2010, Mutable Music)

If, Bwana, the member-shuffling electroacoustic ensemble led by Chester’s Al Margolis, was last covered here in October 2008, via a review of Favorite Encores (Pogus Productions), a split release with composer Noah Creshevsky. The following year saw the release of the project’s similarly daring 31 on New York’s GD Stereo imprint. And now, with Assemble.Age!, those on the hunt for weird sounds should again prick up their ears, as the new disc finds Margolis’s sonically surprising adventures continuing just as intrepidly as before.

Margolis is a musician who straddles the rock and experimental worlds: When he’s not clicking away at the programs and processors that collate and mash up the samples used for his If, Bwana guise, he plays bass for long-running art-punks the Styrenes, a band rooted in the same 1970s Northeast Ohio avant scene that birthed Pere Ubu and Devo. Like If, Bwana’s last outing, Assemble. Age! draws on the leader’s ties to Kingston’s forward-thinking Deep Listening Institute to once more feature the voice of DLI artist Lisa Barnard Kelley. The extended centerpiece “Death to the 8 Notes” is a dark tour de force, interweaving Kelly’s sinister snickers and unsettling narrative (“I was cut in half at the waist”) and Margolis’s samples with Monique Buzzarté’s swelling trombone, Jacqueline Martell’s creepy flute, and Tom Hamilton’s squelching synth. But perhaps most revelatory is the all-vocal “DTTO Lisa,” in which Kelly’s rambling spoken and wordless improvisations are chopped up and reworked into a nine-minute kinetic epic.

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  • Peter Aaron reviews a new release by If, Bwana.


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