Written by: Dave Cantrell
You really don’t write about music like this. You travel with it, experience, in a vicariously multivalent way, the dust and mysteries it encounters, the shadows it aches to to describe. In short, you live it, join it if in retrospect as it follows in the ancient footsteps of melodies and the lasting sighs of traders, merchants, proud townsfolk sweeping their doorways in a morning light that, like morning light everywhere, is unique to their exact place and time so thus casts itself, paradoxically, as the unifying patina of existence. Like that silent paradox, what an album by A Hawk And A Hacksaw offers – and Forest Bathing, released April 13th on their own LM Dupli-Cation imprint, is no different – is this gift of a borderless continuity. If music is meant to unite us, erase our boundaries be they map-drawn or century-based, the immersive work that Heather Trost and Jeremy Barnes create under their curious moniker provides, like Leila, The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares and few others (at least at this depth), a suitable and endlessly compelling blueprint.
Employing some notable colleagues on this stop of their journey – Turkish clarinetist Cüneyt Sepetçi, cimbalom virtuoso Unger Balász from Hungary, Chicagoan Sam Johnson on trumpet, Lone Piñon‘s Noah Martinez, and frequent visitor to the duo’s Sonido Del Norte studio, John Dieterich – AH&AH’s work on Forest Bathing, even as the title derives from the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku (“taking in the forest atmosphere”), is in its essence a memory heart travelogue of the pair’s travels to Turkey and those countries – Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Albania – immediately to the west of that eternal bridge between the occidental and oriental. Hence the tracks as much as anything pass more like passages – and the word in the context of an album like this could hardly be more supple in its meanings – rich in hypnotic allure and sinuous evocations, capable of being almost capriciously playful one place (“Night Sneakers,” with Balász’s cimbalom insinuating itself in the tempo with a wonderfully overwhelming dexterity, Trost’s violin and Barnes’ accordion dancing atop in half “Hava Nagila” half klezmer rave fashion) only to be followed in the next by the haunting, the dolorous, the movingly elegiac (“The Magic Spring”). Wherever their pieces register on the mood barometer, it’s clear here that Trost and Barnes are keenly aware that as the mysteries engage them, they engage us as well. Sans vocals this music is nonetheless rife with narrative, stories expressed via implication, similar to how an ambiance of sounds and a fragrance passing us in the market air gives us, the stranger, oblique but believable clues into the life of inhabitants in an otherwise alien place.
From where I sit in this too-clean Western café, listening in to secrets, I sense in “Alexandria” the fading afternoon heat and the coming of twilight, Barnes’ percussive instincts on the Persian santur interpreting in its own way the variations of life’s sharp, stippled pulse. In “A Song for Old People, A Song for Young People” an entire day whiles away in a dry, distant mountain village, graceful lulls and blurs of activity eddying around the broken-down townsquare water pump that hasn’t worked in forty-four years, Trost’s violin the medium of changeless change. Then there’s “The Washing Bear,” where the forest bathing beast is surely attending to its riverside toilette in preparation for the giddy Balkan brass fest kicking off at sunset in a nearby community hall hung with strings of a thousand colored lights under which the swirl of embroidered skirts and broad red waistbands will undoubtedly make the poor ursus dizzy.
Fanciful impressions? Certainly they are, but whatever version of same this album inspires in you I can more or less guarantee will be just as intoxicating. While the album was wholly recorded in Albuquerque, that fact doesn’t enter the picture and isn’t meant to. Rather, the intent here would seem to be to give the impression that this record wasn’t recorded at all but was simply plucked out of the ether a half a world away. This is the exotic fully grounded and life-affirming, this is remoteness brought home and made immediate, not just for the sake of listening pleasure but to broaden horizons in one of the most enchantingly challenging ways imaginable. Consider it another gift from AH&AH, customs that didn’t have to pass through customs. [Forest Bathing available here, and here’s a little montage to help nudge you along]