Lea Bertucci’s Metal Aether (NNA Tapes) deals in an inhalable ambience so rich that it should come with a warning: it could get you dangerously high. The album’s four beguiling tracks build their propulsion through hints, subterfuge, and the knowledge that every great magic trick has a series of subtle gestures and hard work right behind it.
“Patterns for Alto” crisply states the main theme followed by a pause that dares the listener to think: a breath. That gesture recalls a lineage of solo saxophone that gets expounded upon and exploded as Bertucci layers and melts these patterns over one another. One cycle burns out with bluesy blurs as another bubbles in its cracks. The squiggles grow in intensity, revealing more of their light as the notes keen higher. Revealing the larger arc of the piece and showing the impact of those tiny riffs pieced against one another is thrilling. It grows frenetic but never tense.
“Accumulations” works the lower and slower end. Long, almost mournful lines curl in the air like smoke. The accumulating for which it’s named starts slow, one line beginning like a fraying knot as the last one decays. A rich drone here, a glinting brush stroke flecked by the electric blue of the perfect dissonance. As that acidity comes to prominence, the ground shifts as those languid, sensual lines recede.
That sense of depth of field is even more the point on the second half of Metal Aether. “Sustain and Dissolve” plays with those two connected but opposite forces. Notes are held in the air and doubled so they shimmer in what almost feels like an electronic mirage effect before being allowed to die slowly like flickering embers. Keyboard chords, tape noise, and found sound rise out of that sea of horns, peeling the skin off the world to reveal something more mysterious and even a little melancholy before it ends with a pattern that recalls the first track. This sets up “At Dawn,” with slow bells drifting between foreground and background as lilting static flows through the middle. Horns and drifting piano chords fill out the shading of this vivid scene.
These last two tracks feel like pastoral paintings, then crumpled like tin foil so the textures and reflections aren’t where you expect. Metal Aether is a wildly original and personal look at the far reaches of the well-plowed borderline between minimalism and improvisation.