|The Branch Will Not Break is an impressive collection of musical episodes. To call them songs would be somewhat inaccurate, because they’re closer to tone poems or paintings with notes. And this splendid trio—Carrie Shull on oboe and English horn, Tara Flandreau on viola, and Reuben Radding on double bass—is like a collective Jackson Pollock, working on a canvas that barely contains the energy of their ideas.
The opening title tune suggests a traditional symphonic warmup, but the conventional quickly ends as the music escalates to a Philip Glass-like freneticism, with Flandreau’s viola and Radding’s double bass dancing fiercely alongside Shull’s dubbed oboe and English horn. On “Tell the Bees,” Radding simply lets his double bass creak as the imagery shifts among a beehive, a traffic jam, gulls shrieking above the seashore, and a ship at sea creaking with the list of the waves.
“In Fear of Harvest” is a melancholy, dark, brooding, string-driven piece, and on “Echolocation” Shull wails on the oboe like Trane blowing the soprano, moving the disc into the realm of free jazz chamber music. Some of the landscapes here are densely populated; others, like “Twilights” and “Zooid,” are bleak and spare, but no less affecting. There’s even a wry bit of humor involving the use of time in “Temporal Defense,” the shortest piece on the disc.
In light of the naturalistic bent of the titles, the final tune, “Obscure Zealots,” the most “straightahead” tune on the disc, could be interpreted as a statement on the trio itself and how each member feels about the somewhat thankless task of expressing love of and concern for the natural world through music. It is this final aspect which gives The Branch Will Not Break both its triumph and its sadness.