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Unduality by Greg Burk

This is an unusual, even strange release. The basic idea is to take an eight-note theme by Bach (from his First Invention), and play it over and over again while changing keys and keyboard tone-quality. The variations are alternated with Afro-Cuban percussion. I probably shouldn't have told you that, because part of the effect Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron are no doubt after is the surprise of mixing Bach with conga drums.

Although they played together for over five years in Boston's Either/Orchestra, the two recorded most of this material separately, without planning to make it part of the same release. Unsurprisingly, the resulting tracks both seem and are musically unrelated, perhaps partially explaining the album's title. It takes an open mind and a major sense of humor to appreciate Burk's sometimes playful and sometimes sadistic manipulations of Bach. The liberal sprinkling of Lebron's lively, swinging percussion ups the quirky quotient.

A prepared piano, made to sound somewhat like a harpsichord Bach might have used when composing, makes the first statement of the theme. The second track uncorks the Afro-Cuban surprise, and conguero Lebron is the main reason I'd call this a jazz album. The keyboard tracks sound composed rather than improvised. Burk sometimes manipulates Bach's melody electronically with techniques familiar to modern classical composers. Often he plays a variation with one key and timbre in the left hand and simultaneously a different key and timbre in the right.

"Unduality Six: Bach in the USSR" is a hoot. Moog and what sounds like a drum track combine to turn Bach's Invention into a cheerful, off-kilter merry-go-round tune. As usual, an all-percussion track follows at a medium tempo. Next "Unduality Seven: Bach to Nature" presents an ethereal electronic variation with live birds in the background. Segue back to Latin beats, and so it goes.

Once over a probable, "What-the hell-are-they-doing" initial reaction, musical adventurers will find much here to enjoy. The Bach tracks are clever, interesting, and surprising and offbeat enough to make a receptive listener laugh aloud. The percussion tracks, in their totally different way, are equally entertaining. Unfortunately the concluding variation flops. The musicians sing Bach's notes (do, re, mi, etc.) while throwing in whistling, a fugue and an ecclesiastical vibe. The amateurish result mars what has otherwise been a witty tour de force.

But if you don't miss once in a while, you're not trying hard enough, and the preceding 22 tracks make this a challenging and amusing release.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Greg Burk
  • CD Title: Unduality
  • Genre: Other
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Accurate Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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