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Courvoisier, Feldman, Mori, Parker: Miller’s Tale

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If there is a recording that can simultaneously put kittens to sleep and send a 14-year-old girl running from the room, it is Miller’s Tale. This observation is not theoretical. An hour-long set of improvisations inexplicably inspired by the plays of Arthur Miller, the album manages to be at once silly, irritating, dull and unnecessary.

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier, violinist Mark Feldman, electronics sculptor Ikue Mori and saxophonist Evan Parker—respected veterans, all, of the avant-garde—gathered in a New York studio in 2015 with Miller’s work on their minds. They ended the day with this ridiculous mess. The first four pieces involve the full quartet; the final five have the musicians squaring off in a variety of duos. Each musician sounds more restrained than he or she typically is, and Parker in particular tones down his act substantially, mostly foregoing the long, circular-breathing technique he so often employs. Together, these four musicians should make music that is utterly compelling and alive. Instead, they wander aimlessly from track to track.

Oddly, the subtler moments are the more grating: Courvoisier indiscriminately scraping the piano strings on “Death of a Salesman”; Mori burbling like a yard-sale Casio keyboard on “Riding on a Smile and a Shoeshine”; Parker blurting the same notes over and over on “Playing for Time.” Spontaneity is one thing—going nowhere with no plan is quite another. Their music is dry, uninspired and often annoying. It is random tinkering and squealing. It is insects buzzing around your head. It is clawing at strings and haphazardly pressing keys. It is poor rehearsal. It is noise. It is unpleasant.

Originally Published