This fascinating radio play about the opium trade in New York at the turn of the 20th century is such a confounding, brilliant assortment of fragmented narrative -- that tracks wonderfully for those who pay attention -- and instrumental prowess it's a wonder of the soundscape form. Zeena Parkins has enlisted the aid of some of Downtown's finest to help realize Ana Maria Simò's text, produced the record, and turned over the entire project to Linda Chapman to direct. Centering on one family in transition in New York, the Parkins/Simò collaboration uses seven cast members to tell a conflicting tale of love, race relations, commerce, and the shifting perception of the narcotics trade in early-20th century New York. Parkins scripted sections for each of the instrumentalists here to play in tandem with one another or solo as an accompaniment to the narrative. DJ Olive, Margaret Parkins, Ikue Mori, Tenko, Chris Cochrane, David Shea, Jo Trump, D.D. Dorveillier, and Jonathan Bepler all lend hands toward creating a non-instructive, yet instrumentally and sonically compelling, musical narrative that suggests the narrative forward. Different sounds become associated with different characters; they appear whenever the character speaks. The play itself is a study in narrative brokenness, with the entire tale being revealed without a narrator. Tensions become nearly unbearable as they reflect the separation and brokenness in human relationships when economics becomes an equation for power within a household, within a neighborhood, within a city. This is arresting stuff. It may not be for everybody, but for those who are patient enough to take it in, it offers great rewards.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek