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The extended, high-pitched tones of Rhonda Taylor’s saxophone are like hands clasping upward at the sky. Swerving and heat-drunk, she manages to imply the presence of a vast landscape through a vertical wisp of sound – not by filling the space, but by capturing the sense of being stranded in emptiness. Percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani seizes the horizontal axis, smashing and rattling like an attic box of dusty goblets riding a giddy tilt, not so much playing the setup as tumbling into it. The key connector throughout these improvisations is a sense of imbalance. Inspired by the vastness of the American Southwest, the duo seem so consumed by the desert that they lose their orientation within it. Upward is forward is backward is downward. They stagger towards a jaunting horizon line, into the upturned basin of a blue sky, into eachother, and City Of Rocks emerges as a catalogue of these beautiful swerves and divergences.
There are blasts of staccato harshness, like spiky plants erupting out of the earth, as on the rabid mid-section of “Dust Devil”: Taylor slips away from the mouthpiece into harsh wordless blurts, as Nakatani lurches abruptly between deep pounds and rusty chimes. These sections, while arresting in their pelleted energy and rasping dehydration, are most impressive for making the sheer scale of tracks like “Petroglyph” even more emphatic in contrast. After those tight jolts and contractions comes a great unravelling into the infinite: the slow whine of cymbals twists into saxophone breaths, sliding toward silence like snakes chicaning through the sand. Crucially the instruments sit within a modest reverb, avoiding a blunt evocation of vastness that simply drenches the music in cavernous reflections. Instead, the refined echo of a large room is nested in the gestural implication of a seemingly endless outdoors. As it transpires, the straining and clasping of the spirit – the surges and swoops of limbs and breath, like the painted glyphs of mythological scripture – suggest an enormity that physical acoustics are powerless to reproduce.