Live at Roulette

Bonnie Barnett

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Live at Roulette Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Not your everyday improvisational singer, Barnett approaches territory exclusively trodden by Diamanda Galas, sans the Satanic verses. She's an expert at holding long tones and stretching her voice through deep creaking or shrill shrieks, and she speaks in tongues that approach ethnic proportions. The vocalist also uses live electronics, an echoplex, and reverb to further mystify. This is a continuous live performance at NYC's Roulette, with help from bassist Ken Filiano, pianist Evan Gallagher, electric guitarist David Watson, clarinetist Daniel Goode, and drummer Elliot Humberto Kavee. Barnett wrote the text for the opener "Waiting for Afghani Women." In it, she speaks out against the oppression of females through a series of long-held, wraithlike hummed tones, screams, and howls along with poetry relating the inability of these women to leave their home. The song is backed by instrumental raking and scraping. "Inquisitivity" has echoed vocals expressed in nonsensical vocal fragements, as if it comes from the netherworld. Filiano plays a legitimate solo as the piano snips shards of chords and the piece ends angrily. More intense raking and scraping along with Barnett's hysterical, wordless rantings introduce "A Terrible Scene" written by Donald Barthelme. Told by the vocalist, It's the story of the mass murdering of a very large group of musicians as she, one by one, describes their instruments -- some exotic, others alchemized or made up. The piece resolves on a quietude of percussion, piano, and clarinet notions, as if the last drops of blood have finally been drained. "Husky Dog" has a Native American element, bass ostinato, haunting vocal refrains, some screeches, and some controlled cacaphony. The spoken word piece of Gertrude Stein "As a Wife Has a Cow; A Love Story" has Barnett repeating the title in staggered and fluid phrases alternately and many times, then rambling on for the rest of the tale leading into similar motifs, conclusively expressing the notion of expectations. The near 22-minute finale "Investigation of a Sudden Wonderment" features the instrumentalists collectively brooding under the surface, with the electric guitar bubbling on top, Barnett's vocals prattling in ethnic gibberish, and more improv setting up Kurt Weill-ian, circus-styled distention with vocal and clarinet hoots wading through the murkiness. This recording is equally both compelling and depressing. It requires the challenged avant listener to appreciate its depth, sincerity, and wisdom, which it doles out in hefty portions.

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