Click here to [close]

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Solo Violin

 By Stef Gijssels

As usual we present an overview of solo albums, this time on violin. Again, there's a variety of approaches to the instrument and to music, from the 'pure' classical sounds over raw explorations to multilayered electronically processed music. Regardless of the approach, all albums are worth mentioning, especially because of the strong musical characters of the artists, who, each with their own vision of what the instrument may deliver, show us unexpected aural vistas. 

Mark Feldman - Sounding Point (Intakt, 2020)

Mark Feldman is possibly best known for his collaborations with John Zorn's Bar Kokhba ensemble or the Masada String Trio, or from his collaborations with Chris Potter. On our blog we have especially reviewed his many collaborations with his partner pianist Sylvie Courvoisier. It was also on Tzadik that he released his first solo album in 1995, called "Music For Violin Alone", and we had to wait a long time indeed for his sophomore solo album. "Sounding Point" is excellent by any measure. Feldman's compositions are closer to modern classical music than to jazz, and his technique is often astonishing. 

Despite the gravitas, austerity and intensity of many of the pieces, he is also a master at not taking himself too seriously, as he can interject some moments of fun too. He uses overdubs on some tracks, such as the Ornette Coleman composition "Peace Warriors", on which he sounds like an ensemble all by himself when playing the theme. "Maniac" and "The New Normal" are my favourite tracks, the former characterised by a repetitive theme, the latter by the highly unusual extended flageolet sounds. 

Fans of violin and of Feldman, should listen to this. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Yasmine Azaiez - Everyday Things (Sirulita, 2019)

Tunesian violinist Yasmine Azaiez is the surprise in this list. This is her second solo album, next to two performences with Agustí Fernández. It is no surprise her second solo album is also released on the Spanish pianist's label. 

She describes herself as a Classical musician, a Middle Eastern improvisor and a Free Jazz improvisor: "Each note I play exhibits my love of extended techniques I have worked on over the years, my respect I have for the musicians who have inspired me, and my unique {perhaps bizarre} style of playing. As a person, I am dark, glamorous, curious, and quirky. And thats exactly how I intend my music to be. Enjoy my nonsense".

On "Everyday Things" she presents her music as very adventurous and eclectic, indeed bringing together sounds and approaches from various genres and times, in a very intense and uncompromising way. That last part is really to her credit. She will not be a crowd-pleaser, but the character of her music will hopefully give her wider exposure to fans with open ears. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Frantz Loriot - While Whirling (Thin Wrist, 2021)

French-Japanese violist Frantz Loriot is a third-generation classically-trained musician, who has tried to "unlearn" his schooling to find his own creative voice. "While Whirling" is Loriot’s second solo album after "Reflections On An Introspective Path".  

As we have mentioned in earlier reviews, this voice is radical and uncompromising in its timbral and musical explorations, bringing listeners into uncomfortable territory, requiring from them the same approach of letting go of the known to experience entirely novel sounds coming out of his viola. Despite the unusual sound, his improvisations are measured, well-paced, skill-fully navigating silence and coherent in their intent. Wether the howling foghorn on "On The Lawns Of Insomnia", the skittering scratching on "A Throbbing Whisper" or the high-pitched whistling on "Smiling With Unseen Weight", the listener moves from one sonic surprise to the next, participating in a kaleidoscopic change of emotional colour. 

The liner notes mention his indebtedness to Barre Philips, Joëlle Léandre and David S. Ware for their approach to music and sound. From what I understand it actually means to give yourself fully, both physically, emotionally and intellectually. As the liner notes mention "Loriot supplemented his understanding of music’s force with realizations of vitality, awareness, and danger". Clearly, these three qualifiers are present here. 

The eight tracks of the album are titled by the lines of an Eliot Cardinaux poem: 

The world lifts the heart
while whirling
through westless rains
on the lawns of insomnia
a throbbing whisper
smiling with unseen weight
those exiled belongings
of many others whirling

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Sarah Bernstein - Exolinger (577 Records, 2020)

We reviewed American violinist, vocalist and poet before, with her quartet and her collaborations with Kid Millions. With "Exolinger" - which is also her moniker for solo performances - she releases her first solo album. Bernstein's sound is heavily processed through live electronics, resulting in layers of music that cannot always be perceived as coming from a violin, but that is the last of her worries. Her focus is on the music, on its uncanny, eery and sometimes dark ominous voice. The music speaks of despair and loneliness, in a loud, extravert way. She gives a total musical performance that is rich and compelling. Purists of the violin may not find much to their liking here, but fans of uncompromising and infectious music will find a lot to savour. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Stanisław Słowiński – Solo Violin Avantgarde (Infra Art, 2020)

Polish violinist Stanisław Słowiński demonstrates his skills on his second solo album. I am not sure what happened with the production of the album, but I would recommend interested listeners to skip the first track "Soul" (or is the third? there are apparently other versions circulating), and go directly to the second and folllowing pieces. It may be a question of taste, but the opening track with all its overdubs, its sentimental sense of drama and cheap crescendos is not something to my liking, and it may put many "avant-garde" listeners off. The other tracks demonstrate why Słowiński  received so many awards during his young career. You can hear that he may effortlessly play Bach's partitas as well as jazz and avant-garde. 

His compositions are interesting and wonderful to listen to, because it all comes so naturally and lyrical to him. At times he uses overdubs as on "Reflection". 

Fascinating music by a true virtuoso. 

Gabby Fluke-Mogul - Threshold (Relative Pitch, 2021)

Gabby Fluke-Mogul is a young American violinist who has so far released three solo albums in the past two years. Their sound is very special and unique: raw and abrasive, unpredictable and inventive. It is in-the-moment improvisation without compromising for audience expectations. Their improvisations are all musical narratives, following their own logic and story-line, with often unexpected turns and twists but coherent overall.  

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Phil Wachsmann - Writing In The Water (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2020) 

The first name coming up when thinking of violin in free improvisation is without a doubt Phil Wachsmann, whose first album already dates from 1973, and who is credited on no less than 270 releases (according to Discogs). We can thank Corbett vs. Dempsey to have re-issued this album, originally dating from 1985. 

It shows us Wachsmann in great shape and creativity, using his instrument and electronics in their widest array possible, moving easily from classical to noise as if genres and agreed musical notions did not exist, demonstrating that he is one of the true masters of the instrument in improvised settings. The original album mentions "solo violin coupled variously with live electronics and pre-recorded tape to provide a panoply of sounds, including, towards the end of the long title piece, suggestions of the ghost in the machine."

To my knowledge this is his one of his two solo albums, together with Chathuna from 1996. 

The music was recorded live during a performance at the Actual Festival, London on 7 September 1984.

A must-have for fans of freely improvised violin. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

Biliana Voutchkova - Seeds Of Songs (Takuroku, 2021) 

Bulgarian violinist Biliana Voutchkova was also inspired/encouraged/forced by the pandemic to release another solo album. 

Her words say it all: "Seeds of Songs is a kind of aural chronological retrospective of the year of Corona. For the first lockdown months which started back in March 2020, my creativity literally froze. When all my concerts and activities got canceled, faced with these shocking at the time situation, I lost motivation to work or produce anything and lured myself into the pleasure of sudden free time, connecting daily to the beauty of spring. I slowed down, observed, and I listened - to the world within and outside, to my thoughts, my heart, my mood, my close and distant surroundings, to the sounds heard each day and night at my home, in the presence of no one besides my children… my listening became deeper, undisturbed, conscious, lovable. And before I even knew it, it connected strongly to the process of creation of this album."

The long single track on the album is actually a collage of snippets of sound, vocal pieces, violin, ambient sounds and objects, put together into one narrative or musical suite. Some moments are gut-wrenching, some closer to noise, others more intimate and subdued. 

Only digital version available from the label


Richard said...

Gabby Fluke-Mogul also plays on an album with Matteo Liberatore, Joanna Mattrey and Ava Mendoza I highly recommend.