So along comes Unduality, a recording by Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron. The press release suggests that I “just go with it,” promising that this album by a pianist and a percussionist will be unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard that a lot.
But I’ve never heard anything like this before. Honest.
Now, the word “duality” is defined as “the state or quality of being two or in two parts.” In mathematical terms, it’s “the interchangeability of the roles of the point and the plane in statements and theorems in projective geometry.” So Unduality, I guess, has to mean the opposite? Would it mean “the state or quality of being not two or not in two parts?” Perhaps.
One thing is for sure: trying to figure out what “unduality” might mean as a term, mathematically or otherwise, is almost certainly the easiest part of this exercise.
Indeed, Burk and Lebron’s record is an exercise. At times it’s an exercise in endurance, while at other times it’s an exercise in sanity. I mean that as a compliment.
Unduality is Burk and Lebron’s version, I guess you could say, of Bach’s “First Invention.” Any pianist worth his or her salt knows the living hell out of the “First Invention” (probably in all 12 bloody keys, too), but most pianists have never heard it quite like this. And if they learned it like this, as if that was possible, Bach himself would be rolling in his Leipzig grave. Too soon?
Burk, the pianist, and Lebron, the percussionist, melt classical music with free jazz and Afro-Caribbean percussion to form their stew of mystification and strangeness. Bach’s “First Invention” is diced and split into a million pieces, seemingly, and the shards are put through the perpetual ringer of musician’s instinct.
Make no mistake about it: this is a dismantling process. Burk learned to play the two parts of the “First Invention” with his left and right hands and then overdubbed it in the studio in all 12 bloody keys, tearing the composition apart with twisted piano sounds and a slice of Moog for good measure. Adding to the lunacy is Lebron, the conguero born in the Dominican Republic, and his stacks of percussion vignettes.
The resulting ridiculous salvo of “songs,” if they should be called that, tip out like ice cubes clattering around in a wineglass. Sometimes the sound is breathtakingly beautiful, other times it’s just a damned rattle. But if you’re listening, really listening, it’s always interesting.