The second release from the ambient/experimental duo Book of Clouds, Heavy Chains, is a six song album bursting the confines of what I call music with unabashed renegade glee. The duo of guitarist Federico Balducci and sound effects master Ian Bouras have a distinct and highly charged chemistry on each track they appear together and they recruited saxophone player Ayumi Ishito to appear on a single track. Bouras, a well known guitarist in his own right, gladly stands aside for Balducci to come to the fore here. Despite his struggles with the progressive and rare neurological disease Ataxia, Bouras continues forging ahead with a singular musical vision Balducci complements well with his unique yet intensely riveting guitar work. It’s uniformly excellent sophomore effort from these two daring musicians.
The first full-on musical track we hear is entitled “Primer Eslabon”. It foreshadows the boundary pushing to come with its mix of Bouras’ surprisingly percussive sound effects providing steady punctuation for Balducci’s guitar. His guitar playing is all over the map, but never in a negative way. He is a stylistic master and the jazz and classical influences forming the backbone of his work run throughout this track, and those that follow, with often surprising moments of lyricism in this echoing web of sound. The duo has a wont for expanded instrumental workouts and this first track, the shortest of such workouts, shows they can indulge themselves in this way without losing the listener or exhausting what they have to say.
“Tercer Eslabon” opens with a seeming sweep of instrumental wind before Ayumi Ishito enters the picture. He exchanges an assortment of near call and response musical lines with Balducci while Bouras punctuates their work with his assortment of ambient sound effects.. Ishito is definitely well suited to join the duo on this track and delivers listeners a wide assortment of brass sounds, descending lines, joyful peaks, mournful lows. His contributions to the performance represent, arguably, the most traditional musical moment on the album and there’s little doubt this would have been a very different track without him.
The penultimate track “Cuarto Eslabon” begins in low key fashion but rises to intense heights over the course of twenty one plus minutes. Bouras is initially working in shadows behind Balducci’s meditative guitar playing and they unfold the track in patient, almost painter-like, fashion. Its effects are not immediate but, instead, cumulative. The closer “Quinto Eslabon” is far less stormy than the song before it, but nonetheless an intense emotional listening experience. It is like the falling action in a dramatic work and seems self-consciously set up as the finale for the release. They opt for a reflective mood once again and it concludes the release with much of the same challenging grandeur defining it from the start. Book of Clouds have recorded a release like no other with Heavy Chains; they walk their own path, beholden to no one or any convention. It is stirring to know there are still musicians capable of such bravery in these increasingly stilted times.
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