Nelson Foltz and Tom Lynn are studio musicians who have, we are told, “worked on more song-oriented projects.” The Still Life series, though, sees them renouncing not only song, each of its four discs proudly bearing the legend "no electronic instruments were used in this recording". Foltz and Lynn bring a bunch of muso-cred to the table, mostly under an insipid shiny U.S. Music Industry banner, trailing communings with an array of mainstream worthies whose unpromisingly polished pedigree belies the considerable interest Still Life holds for the grittier experimental adventurer. For here they ditch the pre-packaged sheen of chain-store MOR togs and get naked for more questing sessions.
Their declaration of independence from electronics signals an admirable attempt "to bypass formulaic musical solutions and pursue a more adventurous context for instrumental expression." But this doesn't bode some kind of Back to Nature retreat of unsullied acoustics, of organic freedom from artifice. For all Foltz and Lynn's declared mission to explore quiet, slow music that is "organic in character as well as origin", the outcome manifests a character transcending origin. Note that the statement of electronic purity doesn't extend to the recording desk, where the subtle timbral tweakings apparent on these pieces were effected through post-production fairy dust. Still Life is an apposite titling for this series, since it’s all about low-motion unfolding tableaux, self-consciously exuding their nature tones into extended pieces of subtle revelations.
The trombone, an unwieldy instrument wont to blow an ill wind, in Foltz's hands becomes euphonic, pitching itself up close to Jon Hassell’s processed trumpet keenings, and sometimes down towards Tom Heasley’s tuba lowings. The internally themed Rothko-esque cover art of the Still Life series could stand as a semiotic of Foltz/Lynn’s sound, with its slow-shifting tones that spread across a spartan canvas - ostensibly static swathes that reveal micro-variativity on deeper insertion. Though possessed of an internal homogeneity of approach across each instalment, individual albums manifest distinguishing traits.
The main strategy early on is the extended modal drone (think early Terry Riley or Pauline Oliveros), with Interlude, in particular, an hour-long stretch of chronostasis, being more ‘environment tuning’ backdrop than musical statement. Vol.1 takes this as departure point for further instrumental inflections. Percussion comes into its own as Vol.2's piece shifts to percolating ethno-groove, with Tibetan bowls, Armenian doudouk, even bowls of water enslaved to the rhythm. A plethora of sources, familiar and unfamiliar, are co-opted into sonorous communion, a hybrid that here nods discreetly at tribal ambient, while drawn more toward Fourth World's fetid embrace on Vol.3. Ultimately, its intoxicating pull towards genre is stayed by Foltz/Lynn's programmatic focus - that of creating panoramic aural landscapes that blur natural/man-made boundaries, configuring sonic space through dream device.
Review by Alan Lockett