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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Solo violin

By Stef

Solo violin, like solo cello, brings me back to Bach. As a kid, I was fascinated by Bach's Sonatas and Partita for Solo Violin, something my father, who was a classical music addict, found bizarre because he couldn't believe that the music's austerity and almost mathematical rigour would please someone my age. He had this Yehudi Menuhin album that I listened to with extreme pleasure. To me, it was the most jubilant music I had ever heard, pure and singing like no other music I knew. It was much better than all the other orchestral Bach stuff that my father adored. I liked the purity, the intimacy, the clarity, the simplicity maybe, and certainly its level of abstraction, doing away with all the superfluous, reducing music to its bare joyous essence. It had no intention to overpower me like the symphonies or concertos, quite to the contrary, it was uplifting, much closer somehow to me, and easier to identify with. To this day, solo violin albums attract me, for that reason, and let's start with a Bach album, totally out of my league, but still highly recommendable because it takes some more steps than you would expect.

Yuki Numata Resnick - For Ko (Innova, 2016) 

On this album, classical violinist Yuki Numata Resnick uses the Bach violin partitas as a springboard to extend the her approach to modern composers Caleb Burhans, Andrew Greenwald, Clara Ian- notta, and Matt Marks. Fans of Bach will probably be disappointed by these more modern additions, and not spontaneously be attracted to a piece with the title "Dead Wasps In The Jam Jar" or "Trunket's Sarabande", which is the tale of a monkey recited by her, and which lasts a horrifying eleven minutes. 

But her playing is absolutely wonderful and I think her choice of the more modern composers creates a great bridge between past and contemporary music without creating a conflict of style (apart from the monkey story!).

Biliana Voutchkova - Modus Of Raw (Evil Rabit, 2016)

Bulgarian violinist Biliana Voutchkova is probably more known in classical avant-garde circles than among the readers of this blog, but she shouldn't. In fact, again we can credit a free improv label such as Evil Rabbit to present us music coming from a different background. Voutchkova started playing the violin at the age of four, and accumulated all the classical awards that go with the training towards virtuoso level, releasing her first album at the age of sixteen.

On "Modus Of Raw", she shows her skills on the instrument, but after having unlearned all the key automatisms of the training. Her playing is unlyrical, not here to please, not here to bring what you expect, but offering a deeper, more vulnerable quality. The voice on her instrument is soft and wooden, resonating in multiple strings multiphonics, sometimes moving, sometimes hypnotic. She is so far away from classical violin that it's hard to describe the music, which is uniquely her own, offering an immediacy of experience that is further enhanced by her spontaneous singing that once in a while accompanies her instrument. The music is raw and pure at the same time, trying to catch the paradoxes that underly authentic emotions, suggested by titles such as "Chaos & Beauty", "Gratitude & Sorrows", "Songs of Anxiety".

A strong album.

Irene Kepl - Solo (Fou Records, 2016)

This album was reviewed earlier by Eyal Haruveni, so I won't go too much in depth, apart from re-iterating that it's worth looking for if you have open ears for new sounds on the instrument. Kepl is also classically trained, with ideas and music that are equally exploring as Voutchkova's, even her playing is in the higher regions, a little less abrasive, a little more fluid, maybe a litte less daring, a little more welcoming, although at times full of maddening intensity and lyrical beauty ... but don't take this in the classical sense, the motto still is : "Dancing on the edge is the only place to be" ... and that's where she recides, as should you ...

Fans of solo violin pieces should definitely try to get a copy.

Ilan Volkov - 16.2.17 (Otoroku, 2017)

Ilan Volkov is not known for his personal performances, as he is better known as the Assistant Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra or the Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Interestingly, the Israeli conductor, also plays the violin, and in a style which might surprise his regular listeners. His CD output consists of Janacek, Schubert, Smetana, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Bloch, Strauss ... but then last year he released "Usurper with Alex Drool, Maya Dunietz, Eran Sachs and Ilan Volkov", categorised as non-music on Discogs, and showing a completely different face of the esteemed conductor. To be clear: his music is like a smash in the face, unnerving,  agitated, and as the label says, his "bow rasps and tears his un-tuned, un-tamed violin into fizzing electronic realms", but the references to AMM or Ute Kanngiesser or even Zorn are wrong. 

Volkov goes beyond this: his music is as irritating as it is interesting, it is destined to shock, its very 'raison d'être' is to destabilise and unsettle the listener while bringing something meaningful at the same time, a music that oscillate and shimmers, that sends electroacoustics waves through your ears and brain, sharing emotions that range from the nadir of despair to the zeniths of anxiety. 

Listeners with open minds, open ears and strong nerves will appreciate his music, and probably wonder where Janacek, Schubert, Smetana, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Bloch and Strauss have gone ...

Vanessa Rossetto - Rocinante (Bandcamp, 2017)

We all know Rocinante, the horse of Don Quixote, described in Wikipedia as "awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities". Obviously, the name also refers to Vanessa Rossetto, so there may be some self-mockery involved, although we don't know. She is an American composer, improviser and painter. She uses primarily chamber instrumentation, field recordings, electronics and a wide array of different objects exploring them through extended and traditional techniques and other methods of her own devising. She has had no formal training and only started with music in her thirties. She does not consider herself an improviser because she works hard to get the music the way it sounds, working on ideas, collecting sounds and then putting everything together in a longer whole. 

The music is a one-hour long discovery of sound, generated from a viola, cello and objects, drone-like, eery, industrial at times, quiet rustling at others, with the absolute impossibility of identifying the instruments she's using, although gradually, after about fourty minutes the sound of a bow on resonating strings becomes discernable, followed by silence, or barely audible silence because a faint sonic mist remains, gradually swelling again to an audible volume. 

She has released several solo albums and cassettes before, but mostly with musique concrète, sound snippets captured in real live circumstances and glued together into a larger collage, with rhythm and shifting colors and shadings. 

Stanislaw Slowinski - Solo (Self, 2017)

Another surprise comes from someone who has gone through substantial training on the instrument, and laureate of various violin prizes and competitions in his homeland Poland, such as the Grand Prix of the 39th International Junior Jazz Competition Jazz Juniors, Laureate of the Audience Award at the 1st International Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition, Laureate of the Cracow 2014 Creative Scholarship, nominated in the categories "Violin" and "New Hope" in Top Jazz Forum readers. Next to being a member of the Sinfonietta Cracovia and the Krakow Chamber Orchestra, he also has his own bands, the Stanisław Słowiński Quintet and the J.A.S.S. Trio. 

On this short EP, he brings three pieces, with a strong foundation in classical music, but then moving it into today's sonority and dynamics, subtle, sensitive and controlled. I'm not sure how to classify the genre - not jazz, not free improv, not classical - but I'm sure you'll like it.