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Contrafactum Review

by John Vallier

Surrealestate, an improvisatory group of Los Angelenos, is both rooted in the terra firma of serious musicianship and dangling in the vapor of spontaneous soundings. Their debut CD, Contrafactum, is an 11-cut conglomeration of various works that reflects these disparate tethers. Squealing horns, glissading strings, and pungent percussion all come together to mete out a first-rate set of experimental recordings. The CD's title refers to the practice of taking already existing melodies and setting them to new texts. A musical device used by many a medieval European composer, Surrealestate has updated this practice by performing contrafactas concerned with the "spirit" of various music rather than with any specific melody. As five of the tracks on the CD are contrafactas, it is a concept central to the success of the CD. Non-contrafacta works on Contrafactum include "Fool's Danzón," a swooning tune that is inebriated with the romantic; "FQP," a "faster-and-quieter than possible" piece that sounds like melodious insect chatter; and "Six Circles," a work based upon structured improvisations that creaks and oscillates with each turn of its graphic score. Surrealestate's Contrafactum is music for the restless mind, a bridge between discipline and the phantasms of the subconscious. Not recommended for the regressive listener who is use to having their music processed and spoon-fed, Contrafactum will undoubtedly please those of us who crave a healthy does of organic musical production in our diets.

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