WoodWired Duo: “In the Loop” = Works for Flute and Bass Clarinet, by Hannah Leffler and Cheyenne Cruz

by | May 3, 2018 | Classical CD Reviews, Jazz CD Reviews

Hannah Leffler and Cheyenne Cruz have joined forces to create an outstanding group, WoodWired Duo, and the release of their debut album, “In the Loop”—a new musical odyssey!

WoodWired Duo: “In the Loop” = Works by Hannah Leffler and Cheyenne Cruz – Hannah Leffler (flute) / Cheyenne Cruz (bass clarinet) – ****1/2:

Of the many recordings which come across the desk of Audiophile Audition, few feature such combinations as that of the highest and lowest woodwinds performing as a duo.  This new release of “In the Loop”, by Cruz and Leffler, readily embraces that opportunity, and delightfully fills this unique niche.

As the first piece Bare unfolded, it soon became clear that  this was not to be an orthodox musical adventure.  Whilst expecting perhaps melodic interactions between these two woodwind instruments which reside at the extremes of the orchestral range (definitely an atypical pairing), instead what emerged was an inviting—even provocative—rhythmic foundation, based on “acoustic sounds and vocal percussion”, per the liner notes.  Ok, at this point the WoodWired duo was heading into newer areas—time to take care and give the piece an extra listen or two.

As Bare continued, additional material began to be leisurely layered upon this foundation—first the flute, with a bouncy melodic progression, followed by another percussion track, then an additional flute track, before introducing the bass clarinet with a solid deep bass pattern, defining the framework for the piece.

With the foundation established, the musicians of the WoodWired Duo being to show their true light, as Bare begins to expand melodically, highlighting the clarinet and flute in turn.  Cheyenne Cruz introduces us to the colours of the upper registers of her instrument—at initial hearing it was hard to believe it was a bass clarinet!—with the first of a series of weaving melodies, counterpoint to the underlying template of the piece.  Hannah Leffler followed soon after on the flute, and the two instruments danced with each other through several melodic excursions—at times improvisatorial, at times carefully crafted and in precise balance with each other.  Above and beyond the mastery of their respective instruments, Cruz and Leffler each shine as melodists—creating engaging melodic lines with nuanced details—yet without being over-worked—with sufficient variety that continues to delight on repeated listening.

As Bare draws to a  close, the album’s soundscape has been set—aptly reflecting its name, “In The Loop”—with its layering technique of looping and mix of electro-acoustics, percussion, and of course the distinctive colours and textures of WoodWired’s woodwind instruments.

This album covers much ground—from tone poems and meditations to rhythmic blues and latin sounds—and while the compositions are varied in style, they are enjoyable and satisfying, bespeaking to the creativity of the artists, their skill in execution.

WoodWired’s foray into this genre of woodwinds and electro-acoustics with their first composition, Bulgama (yes, the sauna!) is included in the release, showing what they have their hands around—the right mix of ideas, the right blend of voices, the right synergy of spirits and creativity.  While the underlying approach is based upon sampling/looping, there is much variety within the piece—starting with something akin to blues progression with Cruz’s deep raspy voice in the bass, soon to shift as Leffler  picks the listener up with a long melodic ascent to the flute’s upper registers, its own ascending lark.  Although this piece is their debut work, it feels reflectivel of a long-time and well established collaboration between two very accomplished artists.

The album continues to delight with Dionysus, with the opening sounds of Koto-like instrument playing between different modes (Phrygian/Aolian/Ionian to my ear), soon to be embraced by the flute and bass clarinet and the piece’s namesake, the  “god of wine and merriment”.  Their composition Nebula Mosaic starts and ends with an expansive flute mediation by Leffler, flanking a section with strong driving rhythmic foundation from Cruz, with melodic motifs floating in and out.  On first listening, there was the sense of a 21st Century echo of works by Stravinsky a hundred years earlier—and definitely calls out to be choreographed!

One of the highlights of this recording is the multi-movement piece Malala, inspired by the Pakistani woman Malala Yousafzai, who—after surviving an assassination attempt in her youth—became a passionate activist for female education, eventually to win the Nobel Prize.  The first movement embraces eastern Mediterranean maqamat, with its long sinuous melodies dancing between the clarinet and flute, honoring Malala’s heritage; this is followed by musical reflections on Malala’s life—her passion, her strength.

The next piece,The 101, is a delightful bit of blues, quite playful, full of humor and whimsy, almost filling the air with laughter.  More experimental in nature is Red Forest—the name of the forests around the Chernobyl, after the 1986 accident at the nuclear power plant.  Although devoid of humans, there is still animal and plant life there—a setting explored musically by WoodWired.  As an aleatoric composition—using serial techniques along with randomness—each rendition of the piece is unique.

Wrapping up the album is Astor Piazzolla’s beloved Libertango, one of the WoodWired Duo’s favorites.  Though by now there are covers of Libertango beyond count, this adaption by Leffler and Cruz is one of distinction, as it superbly captures the spirit of the piece, freshly illuminated with their unique instrumentation, their soaring improvisations around the well known themes and solo passages—a true virtuosic tour d’force!

If you are fortunate to be in an area where they are performing, do go hear them!  Alternatively— invite them to perform in your area.  If neither of those, do purchase this recording—it is a delight, a rare treat, worthy of multiple hearings!

—Casey Flannagan

Album Cover for Woodwired Duo, In The Loop


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