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Sarah Davachi - Pale Bloom Music Album Reviews


The Canadian composer turns from electroacoustic minimalism to contemplative, deeply focused compositions for piano, organ, voice, and strings.

Each of Sarah Davachi’s releases develops a distinct sense of place. Though her last few records have comprised subtle electroacoustic renderings of instrumental textures, Davachi has also intermittently played with compositional restraints, and Pale Bloom picks up that idea, beginning from the austere confines of the piano solo. The organ tones that undergirded much of her recent work suggested a secular version of the church nave. Here, the walls close in and we’re transported somewhere deceptively plain, to what might be an afternoon recital in someone’s home.

Piano was Davachi’s first instrument, and on “Perfumes I–III,” the three-part suite that makes up Pale Bloom’s A-side, it plays an elemental, if ultimately complex, role. Before eventually returning to the sustained tones that characterize so much of her work, the album first wanders through the field of classical composition. The melody on “Perfumes I” is minor, elegant, affecting but grayscale. More dramatic than the piano notes themselves is the cold silence that punctuates them, lasting for seconds at a time. Midway through, a drone (the piano processed backwards?) begins to pulse its way to the forefront. It intensifies the sound—the piano takes on a slight dynamic insistence as it begins a heartrending ascent into a higher register—and also makes strange our sense of environment. It is as if a window in the room had let in an unsettling breeze from an advancing storm.

“Perfumes II” begins with another subdued piano performance, winding its way to a yearning cluster of notes. This piece also hinges on the introduction of a new element at its midway point: a vocal performance by Fausto Dayap Daos, whose layered tenor phrases are swirled into a haunting chorus. Some iterations of his voice remain distant, but the piano stays close, our solid ground. On the suite’s concluding entry, space is at last filled all the way in with a series of sustained tones from an organ, which the piano accents in deliberately applied chords. In place of the movement of the two preceding pieces, here she explores a developing relationship between the two sets of tones; it invites sinking in, an unexpected encounter with the sublime.

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I’ve been turning to Davachi’s work when craving a kind of blossoming pathos; recent compositions like “Third Hour” and “Buhrstone” ache their way to vivid peaks. In a productive rebuke of that habit of listening, there’s a focused severity here—again, the recital quality, a sense of solemnity—that forecloses any dramatic displays of emotion. That doesn’t mean that the stark lines of Pale Bloom don’t resonate with feeling, but it is, perhaps, a feeling distilled, feeling so concentrated we have to work a little harder to make sense of it as listeners.

The album’s B-side, “If It Pleased Me to Appear to You Wrapped in This Drapery,” matches “Perfumes I–III” in the way it builds up from musical elements at their most reduced. Single-note threads of viola and violin perform a call-and-response dance and eventually intersect in crystalline layers. When they’re joined by the warmth of pipe organ in a lower register, the unadorned fullness of the sound is nearly overwhelming. The physical tension that makes these affecting notes possible resonates in the body, and when the entire thing turns discordant in the piece’s final minutes, we’re folded into its thread-by-thread dissolution. Even at their most rigorous, these compositions manage to hold the listener close—a bare but rewarding intimacy.


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