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Tetuzi Akiyama + Kevin Corcoran + Christian Kiefer - Low Cloud Means Death

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Artist: Tetuzi Akiyama + Kevin Corcoran + Christian Kiefer

Album: Low Cloud Means Death

Label: Digitalis

Review date: Mar. 17, 2009

The sea: a large expanse of saline water wholly unpredictable in its movements, reactions and consistency. As a musical inspiration, it leaves the door wide open for interpretation: a brutal storm’s barrage of incessant, furious noise, the placidity of open water on a calm, sunny day, or perhaps the ebb and flow of tide against tide creating a continuous lapping of sound. The possibilities are endless and almost always intriguing. In the minds of guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama, multi-instrumentalist Christian Kiefer and percussionist Kevin Corcoran, the sea is a poignant, incongruous and haunting body of sound. Their compositions only further the unnerving mystery that depths of dark water can inspire.

Low Cloud Means Death is not an album of sea chanteys or new age synth sprays. It is composed of abstruse and sedated improvisations. Akiyama’s warm acoustic guitar tone contrasts heavily with the scrapes of Corcoran’s drum kit, neither succumbing to the temptation of a discernable melody or rhythm beyond momentary hiccups. Kiefer shades these thin skeletons of narration, typically with an extended bellow of accordion or delicate resonation of lightly tapped piano keys. Maybe it’s just my growing boredom with the layer of fuzzy static that seems to line every single “underground” rock release these days, but the craters – or perhaps oceanic trenches is the better analogy – of silence between each carefully plucked guitar string is less of a yawn and more of a deeply refreshing breath.

The most telling characteristic of the album – either intentional or not – is the way the music eventually settles into the ambiance of your surroundings. On several occasions, listening to the album while reading a book, I mistook the subtle work of the trio as a combination of the sheets of rain outside my window and the creeks of my apartment as it slowly swelled and retracted with the changing temperature. But I hesitate to call it ‘ambient music.’ It is more a realist jazz: an acoustic interpretation of those solitary moments when your attention widens enough to enjoy the natural textures of your immediate environment. In this case: a foggy, disregarding sea.

Limited to 500 copies on Tulsa’s Digitalis Recordings, Low Cloud Means Death is less homage to the sea as it is a respectful bowing to its force. The title is taken from the Columbus quote, “Nube abaxo es muerte,” describing the dangerous nature of encountering a fog while afloat. The minimalist atonality of the album could very well be analogous to the quiet, uncertain confusion of trying to navigate a ship in such. And even the most melodic of the album’s 10 pieces – the finale, “A Prodigality of Light” – has an undercurrent similar to the precariousness of the sea’s surface. Akiyama, Kiefer and Corcoran successfully create an atmosphere as mysterious as being at sea in any context really: deceptively calm, consistently ominous and always peculiar.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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