Duo Noire

Night Triptych

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You might not expect much from an unknown American guitar duo, on an album with indifferent graphic design and a program of completely unfamiliar music. And you would be making a major error. Duo Noire, true to its name, consists of a pair of African American guitarists, the first ones to graduate with Master's degrees from the Yale University School of Music. But the list of "firsts" only begins there. All-contemporary programs of guitar music are not common, and this may be the first to feature exclusively female composers. All the works were commissioned by Duo Noire, and they're a varied group, from the humorous Hocus Pocus by Brazil's Clarice Assad (a member of the famous Assad family, who are without exception worth hearing, and a bit more oriented toward classical composition than the others); the epic Byblos by Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian; the minimalistic yet gospel- and jazz-flavored Soli Deo Gloria by New Orleans-born Courtney Bryan, which is intended not as a sacred work but as one exploring the boundary between sacred and secular; the titular Night Triptych, by Persian-American Golfam Khayam; the Four Haikus of another Iranian American, Gity Razaz, which include Persian influences; and the final Loop the Fractal Hold of Rain, which despite its scientific title features influences from bluegrass guitar. All these works include extended techniques (sample the second movement, "Shamans," of the Assad work, where a spoon is used to produce eerie guitar overtones), and the duo handles a large variety of technical demands well. Another star of the show is producer William Coulter, a guitarist himself, whose crystal clear, close-up guitar sound is absolutely exemplary. A truly pathbreaking recording that is greatly satisfying in its own right.

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