Wax and Wire. 2019. Latitude 49 (Max Geissler, cello; Andy Hall, saxophones; Andy Hudson, clarinets; Jani Parsons, piano; Chris Sies, percussion and electronics; Timothy Steeves, violin and viola). New Amsterdam Records. Contents: Number Nine (Gabriella Smith), Wax and Wire (Viet Cuong), Thread and Fray (Sarah Kirkland Snider), a sense of who (Annika Socolofsky), these (were) used to harm (Chris Sies), You Are Free (Sarah Kirkland Snider). Digital Download, 6 tracks (54:06). Amazon Music, Apple Music, Bandcamp, Spotify. $7.00.
“Wax and Wire” is the second album released by the mixed-chamber ensemble Latitude 49. The innovative group specializes in new works, particularly those that take full advantage of their diverse instrumentation.
The first piece, Gabriella Smith’s Number Nine, alternates between dense, shimmering multiphonics and tone clusters. The work contains moments of dark contemplation as well as mad, dance-like climaxes built on repetitive rhythmic figures. The ensemble’s sound is vibrant and rich; this plush timbre is key to the success of the number, and the ensemble’s pristine cohesion and pure intonation also help to make Smith’s piece shine.
The title-number, Viet Cuong’s Wax and Wire, is thrilling. The composer has created a Bartok-like folk-dance, a tonal piece that is pleasantly “deformed” by the occasional microtonal pitch or extended instrumental technique. This well-orchestrated, rhythmically vital work is a wild, enjoyable ride. Third on the record is the lovely Thread and Fray by Sarah Kirkland Snider, which shows off the individual musical sensibilities of this group. A simple melody snakes along in juxtaposition with an increasingly disjointed and intentionally unstable accompaniment shared across the ensemble, showcasing the stunning control and thoughtful phrasing of each performer.
Pre-recorded and live voice, electronics, and acoustic instruments meld seamlessly in Annika Socolofsky’s a sense of who. This number shows off the ability of the ensemble to fuse with and emerge from the surrounding electronics; it is often difficult to discern what is pre-recorded, and what was recorded live in the studio. Chris Sies’s these (were) used to harm is a reflection on the use of music to maim and torture humans in warfare, with the composer using the melodies of songs mentioned in a 2016 New Yorker article by Alex Ross that were used to torture detainees as his melodic materials and timbral inspiration. Latitude 49 plays this piece with a searing intensity throughout that underscores the serious subject-matter. Another work by Sarah Kirkland Snider, You Are Free, closes the album. The neo-Romantic soul of Latitude 49 shines in this piece as the musicians lean into Snider’s lush, blooming harmonies.
From beginning to end, this is a marvelous recording, filled with strong new compositions and dazzling playing. Latitude 49 performs with sophistication and polish, finding a perfect balance of precision and heart. For any lover of contemporary music, this is a must-have album.