Review: Scot Ray + Vicki Ray – Yar

coverWe open with a track called “Zero Doesn’t Exist”, which is an excellent title for an improvisation by two siblings. While improvised music encourages a greater focus on the present tense, it remains a product of past circumstance, enacting the reflexes that have developed over the course of a lifetime. In the case of Yar, this circumstance is built upon a blood connection between the two players: a life spent in eachother’s company, intimately learning every intricacy of inclination, developing an increasingly complex understanding of how the other behaves, how the other ticks, how the other reacts. “Zero Doesn’t Exist”. There is no tabula rasa. By the time Vicki and Scot Ray bring their instruments into play, canvas is already drenched in the vibrant, splattered accumulation of memory and empathy.

I wonder if this explains the album’s strange sense synchronicity, with both players often converging upon the same rhythm – enacted upon quivering slide guitar and the rattle of prepared piano – without prior agreement. Sometimes they burst into higher volume simultaneously, with a spillage of piano coinciding with a sudden spurt of half-fretted strings. With such intimacy comes a certain alignment of instinct. But of course, this connection is only one thread within the blanket of cascading consequence. On “Thrice Ephemeral Journey”, the pluck of piano strings (like a mouse tiptoeing up a staircase) is paired with a slur of reverberating guitar, whose rhythm occasionally clings tightly to the ascent and occasionally slumps out of time with it. On “Cortege”, Vicki responds to Scot’s persistent guitar refrain in a variety of different ways: occasionally with mimicry (that classic sibling jeer), occasionally with an assortment of crooked knocks and twangs, occasionally with absolute silence. While the bond of family pulls them together, there are shudders of erraticism that often rip them apart, wrenching the music away from predictable repeats through spasms of improvisatory whim, leaving one sibling frantically repositioning themselves to accommodate the left-turn of the other.

It’s an album of texture: knocked wooden surfaces, jangles of slack string and trapped object, rolled tongues and rasps of exhalation. The recording captures them all beautifully, striking a balance between material impact and levitating resonance – particularly on the likes of “The Highline”, in which drones swerve in and out of eachother, prickled by plectrums and scraped bows. In fact, this closing track acts as a perfect analogy for the situation captured on YAR ­­– a constant negotiation of microtonal deviations and vague harmonic parallel, defined both by the tonal alignment that keeps the siblings seamlessly connected, and by the dissonant frictions that arise from those tiny disparities in understanding the world.