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Eric Wubbels/Charmaine Lee/Weston Olencki: Field of Action/contraposition (Out of Your Head)

A review of the two-act album featuring the pianist, vocalist, and trombonist

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Eric Wubbels/Charmaine Lee/Weston Olencki: Field of Action/contraposition
The cover of Field of Action/contraposition by Eric Wubbels, Charmaine Lee, Weston Olencki

Field of Action/contraposition might seem like an album split between two different acts, and in some ways it is. On the other hand, pianist Eric Wubbels is the mainstay throughout the program. Both acts reside in the gray area where improvisation meets new music composition, and each comes with its own set of built-in intensities and sonic allure.

The first half pairs the pianist with electronics artist/vocalist Charmaine Lee. “Screen,” which kicks things off, sounds like the roar of a jet engine, which purrs loudly for several minutes, punctuated occasionally by the whir of airplane blades and radio static. Lee figures more prominently in the next three tracks, imitating test patterns, adding percussive sounds and a few vocal outbursts. On “Tether” and “Index,” Wubbels’ free playing almost seems cut up when the piano mingles closely with the electronics. Beyond its dynamic blasts, this music eventually reveals a structure that welcomes even as it feels unsettling.

In contraposition, on side two, Wubbels plays prepared piano with trombonist Weston Olencki. Their collaboration can get equally as intense as what preceded it, but it feels a little easier going down. Wubbels’ rapid opening salvo in “IMAGE” seems to fuse Cecil Taylor and Philip Glass. The jittery “ESSAY” sounds composed even as both men move together through choppy terrain. Olencki reveals some expansive techniques, bending pitches with mutes and embouchure. When he sticks a bassoon reed in his mouthpiece in the closing “NEGATIVE,” he wails like a distorted guitar. Here, Wubbels plays chords slowly, eventually ending the piece on what sounds like a cliffhanger. Like many releases on the independent Out of Your Head label, it might leave the listener wondering what just happened—and going back for a deeper look.

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Mike Shanley

Mike Shanley has been a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh and gladly welcomes any visitors to the city, most likely with a cup of coffee in one hand. Over the years, he has written for several alternative weekly papers and played bass guitar in several indie rock bands. He currently writes for the bi-weekly paper Pittsburgh Current and maintains a blog at shanleyonmusic.blogspot.com.