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Pauline Oliveros & James Ilgenfritz with Anagram Ensemble: Altamirage (Infrequent Seams)

A review of a compilation that documents the creative partnership of the late composer/accordionist Oliveros and bassist/composer Ilgenfritz

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Cover of Pauline Oliveros & James Ilgenfritz album Altamirage
Cover of Pauline Oliveros & James Ilgenfritz album Altamirage

Two freethinking sound explorers join forces on this otherworldly collection of pieces. Radical composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros was an electronic music icon whose revolutionary practices employed magnetic tape and the newly developed synthesizer. James Ilgenfritz is a modern-day improvisatory titan, a bassist and composer with a deeply expressionistic voice on his instrument. It’s no wonder they were collaborators and friends.

Altamirage yields the fruits of their partnership, which lasted from 2007 until Oliveros’ passing in 2016. A compilation that gathers various improvised duo performances and early compositions of Oliveros’ performed by Ilgenfritz and Anagram Ensemble, it manifests a vibe of effortless fluidity. As weightless as the compositions are, they also carry an unsettling tension and a level of unpredictability. These works, as multidisciplinary sound artist Maria Chavez writes in the album liner notes, form “a rare glimpse” into Oliveros’ early development of her intrepid vision.

“Outline: for flute, percussion and string bass,” featuring Ilgenfritz, flutist Martha Cargo, and percussionist Chris Nappi, is a 14-minute tour de force of playful and idiosyncratic clang and clatter that has enough twists and turns to make one’s head spin with delight. Meanwhile, the five “Trio for Trumpet, Accordion and String Bass” vignettes performed by Ilgenfritz, trumpeter Stephanie Richards, and accordionist Nathan Koci serve as abstract jigsaw puzzles waiting to be solved. Oliveros appears on four of the album’s 10 meditations in duet with Ilgenfritz, the pair articulating a sonic language all their own on MIDI accordion and contrabass.

Oliveros coined the phrase “Deep Listening,” which she defined as “a practice that is intended to heighten and expand consciousness of sound in as many dimensions of awareness and attentional dynamics as humanly possible.” Altamirage is deep listening indeed.

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Learn more about Altamirage on Amazon