The Squid's Ear Magazine

Alcorn, Susan / Phillip Greenlief: Prism Mirror Lens [VINYL] (Very Good)

A beautifully balanced encounter between Baltimore pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn and Bay Area reedist Phillip Greenlief, performing on tenor saxophone & B-flat clarinet, improvising four "colors" as the two span the spectrum from rapid interaction of weaving and pointillistic playing into deeply introspective and ruminating discourse, each the perfect complement for the other.

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product information:

Label: Very Good
Catalog ID: 002
Squidco Product Code: 30241

Format: LP
Condition: New
Released: 2019
Country: USA
Packaging: LP
Recorded at Big Ego Studio in Long Beach, California, in May, 2017, by Chris Schlarb and Devin O'Brien.


Susan Alcorn-pedal steel guitar

Phillip Greenlief-tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet

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Descriptions, Reviews, &c.

"Prism Mirror Lens is an exquisite example of what happens when two consummate group collaborators are given the space to establish their own language. Veteran Bay Area composer and reeds improviser Philip Greenlief has a gift for intense intimacy and exploring the saxophone's sotto voce registers. The Baltimore-based Susan Alcorn has transformed her pedal-steel guitar into an orchestra capable of lyrical tapestries and pointillistic details. They both have ears sensitive enough to elevate any musical setting they're dropped in, from ecstatic bluster to quiet tenderness. Together, they've created a startlingly poignant album that showcases free improvisation's ability to arouse meditative deep listening.

That "deep listening" quality is no coincidence-Alcorn and Greenlief were both friends and admirers of the late composer/musical thinker Pauline Oliveros, and of her ethos. Impressed by Alcorn's playing on recordings, Greenlief had contacted her out of the blue several years ago to ask if he could visit Baltimore, hang out, and play. The musical relationship they forged led to a few East Coast dates, and a West Coast tour, which culminated in a recording session in Long Beach, Calif., in May 2017.

Prism Mirror Lens' four extended tracks deliver the emotional density of large abstract paintings. Alcorn answers Greenlief's clusters of billowing sax notes with a flirtation of sustained twang in "Bright Blue," a contrast that limns an expansive desert just before sunset. Greenlief's quavering tones paint an inky night at the beginning of "Forest Green" that Alcorn dots with chime-like plucked notes.

The whole album suggests a cosmic narrative. The pair sound like they're emerging from a primordial pool as lead-off track "Light Green" first ignites, Alcorn's anxious strings clashing against Greenlief's vibrating note runs before they establish a consoling calm.

Intelligently accessible and impishly serious, Prism Mirror Lens is one of those snapshots that documents two artists' enthusiastic sui generis conversation."-Very Good Records

Artist Biographies

"Susan Alcorn (born 1953) is an American composer, improvisor, and pedal steel guitarist. Having started out playing guitar at the age of twelve, she quickly immersed herself in folk music, blues, and the pop music of the 1960s. A chance encounter with blues musician Muddy Waters steered her towards playing slide guitar. By the time she was twenty-one, she had immersed herself in the pedal steel guitar, playing in country and western swing bands in Texas.

Soon, she began to combine the techniques of country-western pedal steel with her own extended techniques to form a personal style influenced by free jazz, avant-garde classical music, Indian ragas, Indigenous traditions, and various folk musics of the world. By the early 1990s her music began to show an influence of the holistic and feminist "deep listening" philosophies of Pauline Oliveros.

Though mostly a solo performer, Alcorn has collaborated with numerous artists including Pauline Oliveros, Eugene Chadbourne, Peter Kowald, Chris Cutler, Joe Giardullo, Caroline Kraabel, Earl Howard, Le Quan Ninh, Sean Meehan, Joe McPhee, LaDonna Smith, Mike Cooper, Walter Daniels, Ellen Fullman, Jandek, George Burt, Janel Leppin, Michael Formanek, Ellery Eskelin, Fred Frith, Maggie Nicols, Evan Parker, Johanna Varner, Zane Campbell and Mary Halvorson."

-Wikipedia (

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"Since his emergence on the west coast in the late 1970s, Evander Music founder and saxophonist Phillip Greenlief has achieved international critical acclaim for his recordings and performances with musicians and composers in the post-jazz continuum as well as new music innovators and virtuosic improvisers. He has performed and recorded with Fred Frith, Meredith Monk, Nels Cline, and They Might Be Giants; albums include THAT OVERT DESIRE OF OBJECT with Joelle Leandre, and ALL AT ONCE with FPR (Frank Gratkowski, Jon Raskin, Phillip Greenlief). Recent residencies have included Headlands Center for the Arts and from 2012 to 2014 he was the curator at Berkeley Arts, a home for progressive music. He is the recipient of a San Francisco Bay Guardian Goldie Award."

-Evander Music (

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Track Listing:


1. Light Green 11:57

2. Bright Blue 10:19


1. Cloudy Blue 14:44

2. Forest Green 6:34

Related Categories of Interest:

Vinyl Recordings
Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
West Coast/Pacific US Jazz
Guitarists, &c.
Recordings by or featuring Reed & Wind Players
Duo Recordings

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