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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cello & Viola & Some Violin

By Stef

The violin, the cello and the viola make you think about classical music, about string quartets, about Bach, Vivaldi, Paganini, about Yehudi Menuhin, Pablo Casals, Rostropovich, and many more. Yet the strings may contain some more magic in them, magic that is only now released, with new sounds, weirder sounds, somehow more complex, multiphonic, distorted, tormented, somehow more fit for those strange times we live in, full of luxury, agony and inhumanity, full of beauty, sensitivity and horror.

No deep dives here, just some small sketches, hinting, encouraging you to discover the music.

Ernst Reijseger - Crystal Palace (Winter & Winter, 2014) *****

Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger no longer needs an introduction, film composer, member of ICP Orchestra, musician of world music, but also an avant-gardist, as on this album. Reijseger plays solo, and even if this is not his first solo album, it is definitely his best, with twenty-eight short improvisations inspired by the paintings of Jerry Zeniuk, and as the label describes it : "sound pictures at an exhibition".

All of the painter's work is in the similar vein, with full color dots sprinkled over the canvas, and one might expect some similar concept in the music, but that's not the case, quite to the contrary. Reijseger's music is different on each track. Beautiful, intense, classical, dissonant, controlled, loose, dark, frivolous. Some pieces are flowing like a soft stream in spring, some are percussive repetitive single plucked notes, some are filled with high-pitched overtones, some with hesitating soft bows, but whatever he does, it is beautiful, it is simple, it is rich, it is inviting and welcoming.

He will be celebrating his 60th birthday later this year, and he has already given us a fantastic present. A real treat for fans of high quality improvised music.

Highly recommended.

Hugues Vincent & Yasumune Morishige - Fragment (Improvising Beings, 2014) *****

French cellist Hugues Vincent and Japanese cellist Yasumune Morishige sound like soul-brothers on this album, which has incredible power and intensity from beginning to end. The two artists invite you to a sonic universe that is beautiful and dark, carefully weaving bowed phrases in a context of drone and noise and darkness. The instruments screech and whisper and sing and rumble. Their universe is attractive and threatening at the same time, as if the listener is invited to trespass into a forbidden area. They create suspense, anticipation, tension as well as ferocious moments of relief, they create long hypnotic contrapuntal flows close to a tonal centre. They create moments of despair and agony and doom. The create sounds with refinement and sensitivity and precision.

This is without a doubt one of the most coherent and powerful albums I've heard this year. A dark masterpiece.

Jennifer Allum  & Ute Kanngiesser - Bell Tower Recordings (Matchless, 2014) ****½

The tree improvisations on this album are duets between Jennifer Allum on violin and Ute Kanngiesser on cello, and were recorded in a church bell tower, each in a different room. This is as avant-garde as it can be, with both instruments exploring well beyond the boundaries of their instruments, with the bells chiming in, and inspiring the musicians, as do other ambient sounds such as outside traffic, the siren of an ambulance or the ticking of the church clock mechanism (I think).

The music on the first track has a nice and sometimes even powerful interaction of high almost whistling tones interwining like a slow rhythmless dance, a cautious circling around a tonal center, with vibrating notes floating in mid-air, then gradually losing even the faint substance they had to become even more ethereal and ephemeral, slight wisps of music supported by silence. The second track, "Clock Room", has more gravitas, with a more forceful attack of the bows, even if that is still fragile. The pièce-de-résistance is the half hour long "Bell Room", in which the outside world quietly invades the music, and is integrated, carefully lifted into a new level of fragility and refinement. Each note has value here, and when silence takes the foreground, with the distant ambulance the only sound to be heard, deep tones from the cello and super-high tones from the violin create a mirrored drone-like repetition, full of menace and anxiety.

Many people will wonder about this music, and probably that's good. It has its own voice, its own story, its own aesthetic. It may take some time to get into it, but as usual the effort is worth taking.

Keiko Higuchi & Yasumune Morishige - Awai (Improvising Beings, 2014) ****

This is the second duo release by cellist Yasumune Morishige and vocalist Keiko Higuchi. Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of vocal jazz or improvisation, because of the unauthentic sense of drama or in-your-face declamation that usually seems to drive singers, but here we get a different story. Higuchi's voice is an instrument, very much at the same level of the cello, and both look for sonic creation, in a very calm, quiet and precise way. Both cello and voice use sparse sounds that hover over a background of silence, fragile, vulnerable and sensitive. The nature of the music is very Japanese, and it may take some mental adjustment to get into this strange musical universe, but once you're in, you will be hooked. Very delicate and beautiful.

Fred Lonberg-Holm & Nick Stephens - Crackle (Loose Torque, 2014) ***½

My original Dutch version of the "Free Jazz Blog" will be forever frozen on Fred Lonberg-Holm's "Terminal Valentines", then just released in 2007. He has been featured many times afterwards, with his own efforts or as part of the Chicago jazz scene. Now we find him here in the presence of Nick Stephens, bassist and one of Britains lead voices on bass in the free improv and free bop scene. Their performance on this album is really one of dialogue, and in that sense maybe closer to jazz than it sounds. They tease, they react, they dance around each other, with lots of emphasis on the interaction, on the ideas and the joy of it all, rather than on the creation of a musical sound, which is raw, harsh, nervous, agitated, physical even, although they don't shy away from more quiet and sensitive moments.

Jim Baker & Sarah Ritch - Articular Facet 5.3 (Pan Y Rosas, 2014) ***½

On this quiet album, Jim Baker on modular synth and Sarah Ritch on cello, guitar and electronics, create a sonic environment with minor changes from a long horizontally developing tonal texture. The effect is mesmerising at times, with repetitive loops and sudden 'surprise skree', one of the appropriate tag lines that Sarah Ritch gives to her music, together with 'modern scratch, mechanical wood, tone bits, crushed fragments and atlantis shred'. Despite these names, the music is relatively accessible, and of a dark monotony.

Download the album from the label.

Francesco Guerri - Prima Di Qualsiasi Altra Cosa Allora Si Perderà (Self, 2013) ***½

Francesco Guerri is an Italian cellist, with a degree of the conservatory of Cesena, who now ventures into his first solo album, after some previous group releases. His playing is very raw, with lots of coloring outside the lines, breaking conventions, and exploring new spaces, but without relinquishing the instrument's core sounds. His improvisations are dense, busy, like some solo dialogues with lots of rhythmic emphasis and strong attack, and only the last piece, "Macbeth", has a lighter texture, with Guerri weaving his notes around the silence of the space.

Ganjin - Healing (Self, 2013) ***

  • Ganjin is Hugues Vincent on cello, Frantz Loriot on viola and Yuko Oshima on drums. The album starts with calm precision, with soft touches and extended technique sounds coloring space and silence, until this explodes in your face with screams full of agony and despair, the sign to pull you along on a roller-coaster of rhythmic and tempo changes, with changing qualities of tenderness and violence. 

Each time you think you're into their way of playing, you are wrong. The second track too evolves from some metal noise into a joyful balkan tune, with unison passages. "Sorry, But You're Too Far" starts with a long drums intro, to be followed by a great noise soundscape by the strings. "Diviheads" is all violence and mayhem out of your worst nightmare accentuated by infrequent drum beats, until you think that's what you'll get till end, but you're deceived again when Oshima lets loose some fierce rock drumming that is incapable of stopping the banshee wails of the strings. 

You get the idea, there is a lot to be heard, including long moments of silence, with a huge amount of variety and influences, putting the listener on the wrong foot time and time again, and that's fun in a way, but it destroys the unity of musical vision in a way. The album's strength is also its weakness. Yet it's worth listening to. 

  • Hugues Vincent - Early Electroacoustic Works (Soliloq Edition, 2014) 

    This album is a re-issue of Hugues Vincent's first two solo CDs, both of which are actual live collages of cello, electronic sounds, radio snippets, film music and other ambient material that's all presented in a very coherent way in strange sonic sculptures. The sound of the cello itself is hard to identify.

Nils Bultmann - Troubadour Blue (Innova, 2014) ***

This beautiful album is a strange concoction. The first ten pieces are viola duets between Nils Bultmann and Hank Dutt, performing music composed by the former, as a result of years of improvising. The delivery sounds very classical, yet contains improvised parts, and some pieces have influences from country music, film music and other sources.

Then you get four pieces called "From The Depths", an unusual duet between viola and didgeridoo, the latter played by Stephen Kent. The atmosphere is totally different than in the first part, more solemn, with more gravity and emotional depth. Gripping stuff.

Then you get a five minute solo viola piece by Bultmann, a very melancholy and beautiful composition, slow and full of anticipation and intensity.

Then you get five pieces for solo cello, performed by Parry Karp, but composed by Bultmann as an hommage to Bach's famous cello suites. Some of Bach's material is used in the piece. Again, the quality of the playing is excellent, and so are the compositions, but as a listener you're into another sonic universe again.

In sum, great music, but a not very coherent album. The duo with didgeridoo would be preference for further exploration and real attention.

Giovanni Maier & Franco Dal Monego - 4 Pezzi Lunghi (Palomar, 2013) ***

An intense duo album with Italians Giovanni Maier on cello and Franco Dal Monego on drums. They perform four improvisations of approximately fifteen minutes each. This is a very jazzy outing, with long plucked and bowed dialogues, all very rhythmic and with strong interactivity.

Helena Espvall - Both Art And Nature Are Fond Of Machinations (2014)

I am not sure why I would mention this album here, apart from the fact that it is played by the cello and that the music is improvised, but basically what you get is one long drone of various layers of instrument, sounding like an entire orchestra. Not my cup of tea but some may like it.

You can listen and download from Bandcamp.


Olivier said...

Thank you for the recommendation of discs I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. "Fragment" in particular is very special!