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Susan Alcorn - Touch This Moment

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Artist: Susan Alcorn

Album: Touch This Moment

Label: Uma Sounds

Review date: Jul. 28, 2010

With her latest solo album, composer/improviser/pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn continues her expansive musical journey, this time manifesting a new range of tonal colors, along with an ever-deepening sense of proportion and openness, of event and silence.

To most steel players, tone and touch are the heart of sound; touch is what sets the tone in motion, influencing its energy, shape and texture, its emotional and expressive vibration. Given this, Touch This Moment is a wonderfully appropriate title for this recording. Alcorn has long been a player who inhabits each note and gesture with a powerful intimacy. Here, she seems to have reached an even deeper communion with the range of timbres and textures she can bring from the pedal steel guitar.

The first track, “Little Bird, You Can Fly”, at 23 minutes, provides plenty of evidence. Over an opening percussive, metallic pulse, Alcorn plays long, breathing and rolling tones, commencing the sense of dialogue between elements that runs through the piece. As the music shifts and changes organically, exploring a variety of timbres and textures, of structural densities and openness of form, it does seem to become a questing journey. (Alcorn’s accompanying liner note poem evokes the epic migration of a monarch butterfly, and the desire to “Listen/ Feel/Find the little voice.”)

Indeed, throughout the album there is an enthralling vocal quality to many of the melody lines, both in phrasing and timbre. And where Alcorn’s previous album, And I Await… The Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar, tended toward dark shadows, this one seems to let more light in. For certain, there are dissonant passages to be found, along with rolling, rumbling low-end slides (This is most prevalent on the almost-orchestral “Agnes Martin/Specchio Nero.”) But then there are those song-like lines — sometimes with a mysterious transparency of voicing in the chords and harmonic clusters — to open things up. “Hovensweep” is sculptural in its use of those chords and clusters; reminiscent, perhaps, of Messiaen in the way it seems to conjure actual objects in a spatial landscape made of sound — and silence.

Even when evoking a tough and violent urban cityscape (“Gilmor Blue”), Alcorn balances complex harmonic and scalar motion with elegantly aching, songlike melody. The resulting piece carries some of the blues- and -gospel-soaked gravity of an Ellington tone poem, the heart-rending immediacy of a Mingus ballad.

For the final track, “Postlude,” Alcorn offers a quiet and intimate steel guitar meditation: her own journey through the shapes and cycles of a Bach Prelude. Resonating, ringing, rippling, it’s a serene celebration of musical mystery, of the pedal steel and its infinite allure.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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