When it comes to dream teams of improvisers, there’s honestly about a million different combinations that would qualify. That said, this quartet of gabby fluke-mogul, Matteo Liberatore, Joanna Mattrey, and Ava Mendoza is right near the top of any list. Death In the Gilded Age is like looking through backward through time with a rusted-out kaleidoscope and realizing there’s a thousand different angles to see.
The cacophony of sounds on Death In the Gilded Age is kinetic and thrilling. Across ten pieces, the quartet gel in unexpected ways, grinding out decaying sonic masterpieces that simultaneously feel like a world falling apart and spirits transcending space and time. Mattrey and fluke-mogul do things with viola and violin, respectively, that seem inhumanly possible. Together, the walls of sound they create sound like they’re being impaled and torn about. “Straight Rye” creaks and howls until breaking into tiny pieces while the cathartic staccato drones of “Wheel of Fortune” stretch toward infinity, unbreakable.
Wherever the violin and viola go, there is always spoace for Liberatore and Mendoza. I’ve said many times in recent months that Ava Mendoza is among my favorite guitarists on the planet, and paired with the acoustic exaltations of Liberatore, it’s hard to catch my breath. “Cadre” opens the album and the two guitarists are pushing buttons, seeing how to intertwine the disparate timbres while riding the same wave. There’s an odd-shaped ebb-and-flow that’s invigorating. Never quite knowing which turn these musicians are going to take is part of what makes Death In the Gilded Age so fun and intoxicating.
Lost in the lilting strangeness of “Country Lullaby” is an unsettling passage of all four instruments moving together, but creating different shapes. There’s a queasiness to it, like being on a boat in a storm, but it’s also slathered in catharsis. Death In the Gilded Age is permeated with the notion of moving past preconceived thoughts and ideas about the paths we think we must walk, and find appreciation for all the divergent directions the journey takes us.
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