Tri-O is currently Sergey Letov (baritone and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, Chinese flute, piccolo, swanee whistle), Alexandr Alexandrov (bassoon, swanee whistle), and Yury Parfenov (trumpet, althorn). Sainkho Namchylak is a Tuvan singer who combines the traditional vocal techniques of that region on Siberia's eastern border with Mongolia, including throat-singing that produces overtones, with classical and avant-garde influences.
There are fleeting moments that may remind some listeners of vocal techniques heard in Yoko Ono's most avant-garde moments, but Namchylak's vast array of extended effects far surpasses Ono's in both range and radicalism, as can be heard most clearly on her solo tracks "The Ethnography Museum," "Northern Ghosts" (in its second half, she gutterally sings in a range associated with male singers), and "The Legend." She rarely uses words.
The original incarnation of Tri-O, formed in 1985, often played with Sainkho, so this is a reunion (celebrating the twentieth anniversary of their initial collaboration), though Letov is the only founding member remaining. This is not a singer with a backing band; it's an improvisational quartet where all members are important contributors, with many solos, duos, and trios. The sounds they produce are amazing; the opening of the first track sounds electronic, but it's totally organic -- a sensation that pops up many times, not least when Namchylak sings high, piercing overtones.
Not all the playing is avant-garde; there are haunting slow melodies such as the sax/bassoon duet "Singing Sphinx" and the Kurt Weill-ish ending of "Pretenders." Whether haunting or startling, darkly moody or brightly virtuoso, this disc is strongly engaging and highly original. - Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based former editor of Creem magazine and CDNow.com, editor of the acclaimed MusicHound Jazz: The Essential Album Guide, and contributor to The Big Takeover, Early Music America, and many other hip periodicals. He is way too compulsive about his music collection, which may explain why at somewhere over twenty thousand CDs (and plenty of vinyl) it's a bigger selection than many stores offer.