(Innocent)

Try and listen to one of the dozens of short semi-autobiographic stories narrated by Shelley Hirsch during her exhibitions. Likelihood is, following a couple of chuckling bursts you’re going to get sucked into a whirlwind. No — make that two or three parallel whirlwinds. Tornados of words squeezed and mangled after having been pronounced with the most gorgeous operatic pitch. Storms of implied meanings for which you presume comprehension throw right back at the beginning, head scratched in amazement and perplexity. Ghiblis of mutating characters whose size ranges from a tiny mouse to a humongous soprano, speaking of all kinds of experiences, attractions, loves, fears and rebellions, sticking a few healthy obscenities in between. Though distant in terms of musical influences, Hirsch shares with Frank Zappa the ability of involving an audience in not-exactly-penetrable personal flights of fancy, complexities rendered easier by references to daily life and past events that almost everyone can recall; hints to popular tunes help a wandering listener in feeling welcome. Hearing this woman perform is like watching an incomparable plant grow multicolor flowers at a breakneck speed.

Uchihashi Kazuhisa, a long-time partner of the vocalist, again reveals himself to be a practically perfect complement for her evolutions. The pair utilizes electronics to alter what they emit in not-too-radical fashion, but this Japanese artist is not hiding behind loops. He is the possessor of a style made of many different styles, melted in a coherent and utterly intelligible world of luminous chords, tangential sacrileges, sardonic obliqueness and respectful approach to “classic” methods of comping. Every once in a while he lets a distorted scream go in a sort of twisted jubilation, in absolute correspondence with what Hirsch decides to do in that precise moment. Looking as industrious as cleverly relaxed, Kazuhisa stands among the rare guitarists who extract smoothness from intricate improvisations, applying coats of discernible factors and bizarre compounds to utterly musical structures.

Ultimately, the preceding paragraphs should be regarded as a warm invitation to obtain a copy of Duets — 10 Years After (the first episode appeared — obviously — a decade prior on this very label). The twelve tracks, recorded at London’s Café Oto and NY’s Roulette, are exhilarating and even touching: check the great version of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” that ends the set. Given the relative paucity of recordings featuring both actors, the CD belongs in a genuine connoisseur’s collection.

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