Review: Leila Bordreuil – Not an Elegy (Boomkat, Feb 10)

For a track that begins an album called Not an Elegy, “For Tamio” sure as hell sounds a lot like exactly that. Perhaps it’s my own personal emotional association with the cello, which I view as forming one of the more intimate symbioses between musician and instrument, especially in the case of Brooklyn-based sound artist Leila Bordreuil, who has built her formidable career and body of work out of her palpable reverence for that unique relationship. Like the other material of hers I’ve heard previously (notably Hollow, her stellar duet with bassist Zach Rowden) Bordreuil adopts a play style that is both abrasive and rhapsodic, flitting between sticky bow-drones and dissonant attacks that are as much percussive as they are brokenly tonal. But “For Tamio” is far from just a solo cello improvisation; lurking beneath and among the patient artist’s inventive interjections are the spacious sounds of the NYC underground, or the “deserted” city’s “bowels and liminal spaces,” as the release description so poetically puts it. The distinct sound environment of cavernous reverberations, ghosts of far-off conversations, and rushes of the subway trains is at once stage for, audience of, and participant in Bordreuil’s performance, and it’s the crossings-over between these normally exclusive roles that make the piece so enthralling—especially about three-fourths of the way in, when the sublime screech of brakes grinding against the metal track is echoed by the equally affecting scream of somber notes played high on the neck. “Past Continuous” is a much more reserved affair, yawning up from somewhere deep and forgotten with a fragile, hypnotic hum that seems to distort time itself, but nonetheless acts a fitting foil for the A side. Far surpassing the unengaging textures of 2019’s HeadflushNot an Elegy may be Bordreuil’s best work.