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James Blackshaw and Lubomyr Melnyk - The Watchers

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Artist: James Blackshaw and Lubomyr Melnyk

Album: The Watchers

Label: Important

Review date: Aug. 8, 2013

The Watchers is an exceptionally fine duet between stylistically sympathetic composers, Lubomyr Melnyk and James Blackshaw. Both are known to seamlessly knit harmonious and discordant elements together in blurrily fast and continuous motion to create expansive fabrics of sound. Deciding to work together after meeting as if by kismet, both artists seem self-aware of their creative reputations and happily weave a carpet design on the album cover.

Together their collaborative symphony, The Watchers, recreates a kind of modern Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – each part named for a royal star in the Persian tradition, which together endure part of the night. These Guardians of the Sky were thought to be ‘watchers’ in the darkness, each having their turn, expressing a mythological personality, and playing a role in the seasons, beginning with the Spring.

Part I: “Taschet,” or the watcher of the East, is a layered romp of strings. The ethereal galloping triplets contrast with the more grounding and chromatic feeling of a 12-string guitar arpeggiating in barcarole. Between these layers, a melodic line creates a mirage akin to flight – soaring to great heights, speeding over unstable terrain. “Taschet” has both the sentimental style of a folk song and the stateliness of more classical pieces like Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

Part II: “Venant,” or the watcher of the North, has a deeper presence. This episodic begins with a lengthy and palpable silence followed by a soft but increasingly urgent subequatorial-style lament. The repeating melodic line reminded me of the introduction to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. In its way “Venant” draws you in. Images come to mind of a forest floor – clandestine and mysterious but all the while teeming with activity. The patterns are bluesy and syncopated showing multilateral growth – shooting upward or twisting out along the surface.

Part III: “Satevis,” or the watcher of the West, is bold and pure visual luminosity. It arrives with a bound and churns out in slow but irregular ways -- always shimmering with colorful details. The feeling here is distinctly rousing, conscious and self-aware. Both artists employ the full potential of their strings - vibration, resonance and copious pedal. This blurring effect subdues the ears. It is no doubt a physically demanding piece, showcasing a breadth of technical skill but then taking it to a level of emotional exaltation.

Part VI: “Haftoran”, or the watcher of the South, is a breathlessly gorgeous piece – a jubilant if not triumphant dance of lights, which streak and whirl across your consciousness only to fade or dissolve into sparkles. In mythology, this star does not appear until Satevis has vanished from the sky, and the melody cinematically captures a sense of lithe youthfulness, which helps to resolve some of the lasting heavier effects laid by preceding pieces.

If not approached entirely at peace with untroubled thoughts, the album can challenge or overwhelm the mind. The movements are so provocative and energetic, my mind reached frenzy and demanded I walk away. However, when you truly devote the time and space to The Watchers, the rewards are so worth it. Overall, with each supporting the other in their turn, Blackshaw and Melnyk’s dynamic works are a truly brilliant outcome to what was no doubt an exhaustive effort.

By Erin Leigh Zimman

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