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Roxana Amed, Frank Carlberg: Los Trabajos y Las Noches

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Roxana Amed, Frank Carlberg
Vocalist Roxana Amed, composer and pianist Frank Carlberg

The close creative partnership between the inimitable Argentinian vocalist Roxana Amed and the intrepid New York-based composer and pianist Frank Carlberg is immediately heard in the opening of Pido el silencio [I Ask for Silence], a haunting poem by the legendary Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik set to music by Mr. Carlberg. The recitative – sung by Miss Amed, set to music by Mr Carlberg – is the first of eleven songs, magical lyrical evocations from Miss Pizarnik’s celebrated collection of poetry Los Trabajos y Las Noches [Works and Nights, 1965]. The artists pick up smartly from where they left off – together with Mr Carlberg’s vocalist and wife, Christine Correa – on La Sombra de su Sombra [2012], which also set to Miss Pizarnik’s poems to music.

Miss Amed’s dark, gilt-edged contralto delivers lines with eloquent grace of phrase, sensitivity and verbal nuance and are ideally suited to the shadowy, surreal, and spectral lyrical nuance of Miss Pizarnik’s poetry. Mr Carlberg matches the fragile, crystalline beauty of the lyrics with a dancing right hand as if singing in gentle colloquy with Miss Amed’s voice. His left hand creates apt punctation for the rippling melodic lines, pirouetting around the wry horn lines performed by Adam Kolker. All of this ink-dark polyphony is elevated by the rumbling bass of Simón Willson and the cerebral polyrhythms of drummer and percussion-colourist Michael Sarin.

Roxana Amed, Frank Carlberg: Los Trabajos y Las Noches
Roxana Amed, Frank Carlberg: Los Trabajos y Las Noches

All the songs on Los Trabajos y Las Noches dwell in the surreal, symbolist world inhabited by Miss Pizarnik, whose imagination was set ablaze by the works of French symbolists Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. With crystalline poise and shimmering shadows, Miss Amed reveals that she has penetrated the darkest secrets of Miss Pizarnik’s poetry, which was informed by her [Miss Pizarnik’s] fragility and bitter fatality as in Antes, for instance, Miss Amed’s voice seems to evoke the very bars of captivity conjured by the poet’s “small cages on my eyes.” In Moradas Miss Amed explores the coldness of “the stiff hand of the dead man” as low horn harmonizes with the rattle and hums with stuttering rhythms of piano, bass, and drums, all the musicians seemingly parched by endless thirst.

The nothingness of silence and space unfolds in Fronteras inútiles. The aching lyric, spins into foreboding existence from the lips of Miss Amed as Mr Carlberg unfolds the melodic line whose legato is sustained at the slowest possible tempo. The rest of the musical cast put brush-strokes on the song, as if highlighting the emptiness of a loveless space. Signs seems to begin in a lighter vein only to fall under what Miss Pizarnik’s poem describes as “making love to the silence”. Miss Amed, Mr Carlberg and the rest of the musicians capture the mood with suggestive vulnerability in tone-texture and anguished evocation. Los trabajos y las noches is, naturally, the album’s apogee. Miss Amed recites the lyric and the musicians tread the music by Mr Carlberg with a fine balance of subtlety and devastating emotional directness.

Alejandra Pizarnik photographed in Buenos Aires. Photo credit: Sara Facio.
Alejandra Pizarnik in Buenos Aires. Credit: Sara Facio.

The light fades with dramatic, contrasting pace as the shadow of Crepúsculo descends. Miss Pizarnik’s poem captures the sudden disappearance of light suggesting the folding of flowers’ petals, dying down of the light, a wind taking flight, the sea at ebbtide. The vocalist and the musicians capture it all as if to keep the pace set off and sustained by an evocative, equally shadowy ostinato that propels the song right into the proverbial dying of the light. The title of the song Verde paraíso may suggest relative optimism; a lightening of mood is suggested in the wildly annunciated augmented chords. However, here too we find Miss Amed’s questing voice exploring Miss Pizarnik’s seemingly magnificent obsession: the ennui of disappearing lights, long shadows, and silence, accompanied by music that is appropriately dissonant and ominous.

As Miss Pizarnik’s poetry exists in a constant state of bitter detachment for the world around her, so also does the song Nombrarte. Miss Amed sings the word “ausencia” [absence] almost letting the musicality of the syllables out in a hiss of aspirated vowels. As the woody notes of Mr Kolker’s clarinet [as well as Mr Carlberg’s piano] weave into the music a set of profound – but no less moving – contrasts of tone and texture. Mr Kolker employs the dark tones of his low-end clarinets to make for a surreptitious interdiction for the album’s penultimate song, Amantes. It is the perfect pathway for Miss Amed’s silken-voiced, mournful introduction of Miss Pizarnik’s fragile take on a lovers’ embrace in the secret of the night’s darkness. The album closes as it opens – in existential anguish, captured almost too painfully by Miss Amed in the wistful apparition of Del otro lado as the rest of the musicians who bring the brilliant album to a powerfully dark close.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Roxana Amed, Frank Carlberg

Music – 1: Pido el silencio; 2: Antes; 3: Moradas; 4: Fronteras inútiles; 5: Signos; 6: Los trabajos y las noches; 7: Crepúsculo; 8: Verde paraíso; 9: Nombrarte; 10: Amantes; 11: Del otro lado.

Musicians – Roxana Amed: voice; Adam Kolker: B-flat; clarinet, bass clarinet, alto clarinet and tenor saxophone; Frank Carlberg: piano and compositions; Simón Willson: contrabass; Michael Sarin: drums. Alejandra Pizarnik [1936-1972]: poetry. Roxana Amed and Frank Carlberg: producers.

Released – 2023
Label – Sony Music Latin [19658818152]
Runtime – 1:02:11

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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