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Greg Burke / Vicente Lebron
Unduality  (AC-5061, released 2010)

Brass tacks: a duo record between pianist Greg Burk and 

percussionist Vicente Lebron.  Tracks combine or alternate between 

 unconventional, sometimes studio-manipulated interpretations of Bach’s First Invention – one of the most famous pieces in the European repertoire – and Afro-Caribbean percussion vignettes.

Genesis: Burk and Lebron played together in the Either/Orchestra rhythm section from 1999 through 2005, with tours of the US, Russia, Ethiopia, Italy, Uganda and three albums.  Burk is “a startlingly original improviser, [a rising pianist who] straddles a confluence of traditions, seamlessly balancing the spontaneity of free jazz with the discpline of mainstream conventions” (Troy Collins, Allaboutjazz).  Lebron is a conguero, born in the Dominican Republic and living in the US for most of his life, who is widely known and beloved on the Boston Latin and jazz scene for his earthy, intuitive approach to rhythm and his outsized personality.  

As a piano practice project, Burk learned the First Invention in all 12 keys - the way that many jazz musicians learn standard tunes and licks.  He then learned to play the two parts in different keys with his left and right hands.  With a firm grip on the material, he went into the studio and overdubbed it in all the keys, and many other ways, yielding the material for a series of experiments in mixing, looping and reversing the recordings.  The studio and improvisational variations sometimes dismantle the musical structure of the Invention, sometimes make the piano sound not like a piano at all, sometime sound like what you imagine you’d hear if you were losing your mind.  (Throwing in a little Moog doesn’t hurt on that account.)

Lebron, unlike the highly trained former Berklee instructor Burk, has very little formal education.  Yes without the benefit of classroom, he is a brilliant orchestrator of percussion, using the overdubbing capabilities of the recording studio as a score pad.  Burk brought Lebron into the recording studio and let him do his thing, creating a good handful of tracks.

Fast forward about five years: Burk is living in Rome with his Italian wife and young daughters, settled into gigging with various international groups, making records with such luminaries as Steve Swallow and John Tchicai.  He still has these two unreleased recording sessions: the First Invention experiment and the percussion overdub grooves.  Neither one adds up to quite an album...but...if’s a crazy idea: but it just might be crazy enough to work!

Pop this into your stereo and listen...just go with it: there’s wonderful music here, some 

uncannily familiar and some like nothing you’ve ever heard.  It’s a dream.  It’s naive and sophisticated.  It’s never predictable. 

Put it on for people and observe as they start to hear what it’s about.

Audition the tracks. Play it on your radio show - 

take a chance, the cuts are short.  You’ll get phones.  

Use the percussion pieces as beds.  

Be creative with it.

Review it, blog it, expose it.  Does it work for you?

It made Carla Bley laugh out loud. 

I Hear Sparks: Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron – Unduality

So along comes Unduality, a recording by Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron. The press release suggests that I “just go with it,” promising that this album by a pianist and a percussionist will be unlike anything I’ve ever heard. I’ve heard that a lot.But I’ve never heard anything like this before. Honest.

Now, the word “duality” is defined as “the state or quality of being two or in two parts.” In mathematical terms, it’s “the interchangeability of the roles of the point and the plane in statements and theorems in projective geometry.” So Unduality, I guess, has to mean the opposite? Would it mean “the state or quality of being not two or not in two parts?” Perhaps.

One thing is for sure: trying to figure out what “unduality” might mean as a term, mathematically or otherwise, is almost certainly the easiest part of this exercise.

Indeed, Burk and Lebron’s record is an exercise. At times it’s an exercise in endurance, while at other times it’s an exercise in sanity. I mean that as a compliment.

Unduality is Burk and Lebron’s version, I guess you could say, of Bach’s “First Invention.” Any pianist worth his or her salt knows the living hell out of the “First Invention” (probably in all 12 bloody keys, too), but most pianists have never heard it quite like this. And if they learned it like this, as if that was possible, Bach himself would be rolling in his Leipzig grave. Too soon?

Burk, the pianist, and Lebron, the percussionist, melt classical music with free jazz and Afro-Caribbean percussion to form their stew of mystification and strangeness. Bach’s “First Invention” is diced and split into a million pieces, seemingly, and the shards are put through the perpetual ringer of musician’s instinct.

Make no mistake about it: this is a dismantling process. Burk learned to play the two parts of the “First Invention” with his left and right hands and then overdubbed it in the studio in all 12 bloody keys, tearing the composition apart with twisted piano sounds and a slice of Moog for good measure. Adding to the lunacy is Lebron, the conguero born in the Dominican Republic, and his stacks of percussion vignettes.

The resulting ridiculous salvo of “songs,” if they should be called that, tip out like ice cubes clattering around in a wineglass. Sometimes the sound is breathtakingly beautiful, other times it’s just a damned rattle. But if you’re listening, really listening, it’s always interesting.