Baroque drone is not a combination I thought I’d ever see, but MMMΔ and Alem’s new offering for Antifrost is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. From the straight opening harpsichord notes of Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Sarabande,” time moves in reverse. Alem’s playing starts off delicate, with a lightness that floats in the air, permeable and effervescent. Once MMMΔ begins the descent underground with subterranean cello growls, the dueling nature of “Sarabande,” and L’âge de l’absolutisme as a whole, explodes.
Throughout this album, there’s nowhere to hide. Between Alem’s methodic, beautifully construed passages and the ancient viscerality of all MMMΔ’s pieces – the ghostly choir, brimstone timpani, and guttural physicality of his cello – all of it feels utterly massive. By the time Alem is playing circles across layers of lightspeed harpsichord runs, there is no empty space to hide in. Everything is under constant pressure and the tension is a viscous beast. The comedown is short but allows a few deep breaths before L’âge de l’absolutisme charges on.
Beyond the terrestrial world, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air” from Air Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major serenades the heavens and underworld alike. Transfixed by Alem’s weightless touch, the portable organ breathes each note angelically, rising like columns of steam from the ground below. “Air” is a favorite Bach piece of mine, but Alem’s approach is mesmerizing. MMMΔ make the smart decision to fall back a little, adding earthy textures and giving the piece heft. Nobody has a cello timbre quite like them and in conjunction with the harpsichord, clavichord, and portable organ, it feels heavy and primordial. This is music that transcends time and place.
Alem and MMMΔ never feel rushed or unsure on L’âge de l’absolutisme. There’s a moment on Alessandro Marcello’s “Adagio” a few minutes in where the clavichord, cello, and oscillators come together in a moment drenched in emotional grandeur. It’s almost too much to take, tear ducts at the ready to let go as the duo imbue a sweet vulnerability in each familiar note. In that passage, and all through L’âge de l’absolutisme, Alem and MMMΔ are free from expectation and driven by possibility and desire. Once they’ve drained every last drop from these three breathtaking pieces, and the last minutes of “Air” drift off, they let the music go to the cosmic ether. L’âge de l’absolutisme is a true wonder.
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