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CD Reviews: Alex Wing “Solar Vortex” and “Vision Without Words”

By Hrayr Attarian

Alex Wing Solar Vortex

Alex Wing ­– Guitar, oud, bass, Moog, drums, hulusi, and other instruments

Alex Wing and David Boykin

Vision Without Words

Alex Wing ­– Guitar, alto clarinet, hulusi, kalimba

David Boykin ­– Tenor sax, bass clarinet

Multi-instrumentalist Alex Wing has been an integral part of Chicago’s creative music scene for over a decade. An accomplished improviser and a restless innovator, Wing has expanded his arsenal of instruments over the years. Two of his recent releases showcase him on several string instruments, woodwinds, and even percussion for a unique and captivating listening experience.

The solo Solar Vortex is a series of provocative tunes that feature a wide array of sonic textures. The two-part “Park Slope, top floor” is a fiery yet contemplative extemporization that finds Wing coaxing out of the contrabass a tense and poetic song. On the eerie “Moog” and “Moog 2,” Wing experiments with the otherworldly sounds of the synthesizer of the same name in introspective monologues punctuated by silent pauses. In contrast, “Hulusi” is solemn and dramatic, utilizing this free-reed flute’s resonance to a spiritual effect.

Wing, however, is a guitarist at heart and the album’s best moments are when he performs on his main axe. The bluesy “1988” brims with simmering passion and a melancholic lyricism, while “Guitar” and “Guitar 2” are cinematic and eloquent as Wing pushes the boundaries of spontaneous expression with agility and intelligence. The first is more angular while the second more pensive and wistful—yet they make a cohesive whole as do all the pieces. The disc closes on an elegiac note with Wing’s oud requiem to his late colleague, vocalist Saalik Ziyad.

On Vision Without Words, a twelve-part improvised duet, Wing has found the consummate partner in saxophonist David Boykin. Boykin and Wing feed off each other in stream-of-consciousness, abstract dialogues that have their own inherent melodicism, and often exhilarate with their dissonance. Segments “7,” “8,” and “9,” for instance, are intriguing tenor sax and guitar conversations that are darkly hued and logically, albeit unusually, constructed. Wing’s reverberating strings and metallic strums echo against Boykin’s eloquent and sinewy lines—both laced with hints of melancholy. This mood bleeds into “10,” that has a haunting serenity with a cinematic touch, enhanced by the breathy sound of Boykin’s bass clarinet.

The duo’s intricate harmonic tapestry mesmerizes, especially when utilizing less common instrumentation. For instance, the record opener features an intriguing matchup between Boykin’s honking bass clarinet and Wing’s wailing, staccato alto clarinet. The result is charmingly theatrical and stimulating with an undercurrent of subtle whimsy. Elsewhere on “4,” the hulusi’s eerie tonalities echo like that of an otherworldly bagpipe as the bass clarinet growls and roars. The two simultaneous chants create a mystical and sublime atmosphere.

The music on this brilliant twofer is definitely for open minds. It is, nevertheless, electrifying with a dynamic balance of its emotive and cerebral elements. It is best enjoyed by abandoning oneself to its many grooves and creative energy for aural and intellectual satisfaction.

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