Wim Mertens

Instrumental Songs

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Wim Mertens' first U.S. release, part of A&M's short-lived distribution deal with the Belgian chamber pop label Les Disques du Crepuscule, is a somewhat atypical work for the Brussels-based post-minimalist composer. Mertens' particular gift is for arrangement; most of his albums feature unexpected groupings of instruments, providing a fascinating variety of tonalities and textures. Instrumental Songs, however, is a solo work for one performer, soprano saxophonist Dirk Descheemaeker, a longtime collaborator of Mertens and a pivotal member of Mertens' early-'80s outfit, Soft Verdict. Mertens doesn't even play his usual piano on the disc; all seven relatively brief tracks feature Descheemaeker, most often overdubbed multiple times to create interlocking, ever-shifting patterns of sound, over which he then plays liquid solo and duet melodic lines. The results are often hypnotic, occasionally extremely beautiful, and always interesting in terms of the variety of sounds Mertens and Descheemaeker get out of what's often considered an extremely limited instrument. However, it all gets a bit samey by the halfway point, and listener fatigue usually sets in before the last piece finishes. While Instrumental Songs is an interesting curio for fans of Mertens' melodic post-minimalism, it's not a recommended starting point for the Mertens newcomer.

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