Review of “Of Shadow and Substance” by Lea Bertucci – Contemporary Album of the Month by John Lewis.

Estimated read time 3 min read


Elizabeth Bertucci is a multi-faceted artist who excels in various roles such as composer, saxophonist, bass clarinetist, electronic musician, and performer of unique site-specific pieces. She is most renowned for her prominent position in the noise music scene of downtown New York, where she creates discordant and drone-based compositions that explore unconventional textures and timbres. One of her main objectives is to reimagine classical music through the lens of a noise musician, using traditional instruments to produce eerie and unsettling sounds by employing techniques such as electronic processing, overblowing, unorthodox fingering, and distortion. A prime example of this approach is her work “Of Shadow and Substance,” in which the Italian string ensemble Quartetto Maurice utilizes cellos, double basses, harps, and percussion to create otherworldly sounds, while Bertucci adds spatial mixing and digital effects to further enhance the piece.

Cover art for Of Shadow and Substance.

There are two long songs – the initial one is a 19-minute piece called “Vapours,” where restless strings create a rough and creaky sound reminiscent of a rusty car door. They also form a perfect fifth in combination with dense clusters of notes, which become clearer as the song progresses. The second song, “Title Track,” is even more unsettling. The double basses play with intense fervor, while the cellos produce quivering tremolo effects that resemble a helicopter taking off. In the background, cymbals crash fiercely. Although this cannot be classified as jazz, it ebbs and flows in a manner similar to an ecstatic Pharoah Sanders-style outburst.

In the notes accompanying the album, Bertucci expresses that this piece does not resemble her own work. She explains, “It offers a brief glimpse into the human experience during what feels like the final days of the Anthropocene.” In this way, it complements her previous album Chthonic, which was released six months prior and was a remote collaboration with Australian musician Lawrence English centered around the Earth’s geology. While Chthonic utilized electronic drones and natural recordings to sonically evoke earthquakes, volcanoes, and shifting tectonic plates, Of Shadow and Substance achieves a similar effect using acoustic instruments. It is a gradual and captivating composition that encourages us to perceive time in terms of geology rather than humanity – a celestial and otherworldly representation of the sounds that the planet may continue to produce long after our species is gone.


Additionally, released this month:

Swiss duo Musique Infinie, made up of composer Noémi Büchi and sound designer Feldermelder, have released their new album I (Kudos Records), a captivating blend of drone-based electronica with a subtle underlying intensity. While Thomas Bartlett, also known as Doveman, is recognized for his work with The Gloaming and collaborations with artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Norah Jones, St Vincent, and Florence Welch, his solo album Standards Vol 1 (BMG) showcases his stripped-down interpretations of classic songs and showtunes on a raw upright piano, reminiscent of the delicate beauty found in Keith Jarrett’s The Melody at Night With You. New Zealand jazz saxophonist and academic Dave Wilson steps away from traditional hard bop with his latest release Ephemeral (Thelonious Records), using a string section and piano/bass/drums trio to create a hauntingly intense and spiritually inspired sound influenced by the natural world.


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