David Rothenberg and Douglas Quin

David Rothenberg and Douglas Quin

Before The War

Earth Ear

This is the sort of CD you have to hear to believe, and even then you’re not sure. Was that an ornery loon hooting up, or a clarinet squonking? Product of an improvisational collaboration between two of the world’s leading environmental musicians, Before The War is an experiment in how not just to listen to the sounds of nature, but jam with them. Call it “earth jazz,” as Evan Eisenberg does, this toe-tapping, mind-expanding combination of clarinet, keyboards, upright bass, drums, and percussion with field recordings made around the world by Douglas Quin. It’s hard to know quite what to make of it, so you may as well just dance along.

Like “Lines in the Sand,” in which cooing doves segue into exploding bombs in a chilling remembrance of the Algerian revolution. Or “Beluga Siren,” which answers the question of how a human can respond to the siren call of whalesong — with funky clarinet, guitar, and percussion. Or the magnificently restless “Chirp Machine,” with its wicked fast tympani and drums and wildly skirling clarinet, all balanced precariously atop the sounds of hundreds of fidgeting, feather-ruffling, intruder-pecking nesting birds. And then there’s the cool but sad spoken-word piece “Murder in the World,” which relates a tale from Zimbabwe about how an eagle helped a woman working in the fields care for her crying child, only to be shot at by her husband’s arrow, which found its mark in the child instead.

David Rothenberg’s clarinet is amazing throughout, but with a very different voice on different tracks, ranging from straight-ahead jazz to klezmer to atmospheres slow and sad or sun-soaring. And Quin’s guitar work is almost as enjoyable as his field recordings, tripping from ’70s gritty funk to Frippian elegance to a sound like gunfire on a single track. Kudos also to Russ Gold’s super-rhythmic percussion and Bill Douglass’ fine upright bass. Definitely give this a listen if you want to hear truly world music.

Earth Ear, 45 Cougar Canyon, Santa Fe, NM 87505; http://www.earthear.com

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