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Vinyl Cello
Jimi HENDRIX/Haimovitz

Machine Gun (1970) [12:55]
Tod MACHOVER (b.1953)
Vinylcello (2006/7) [14:21]
Luna Pearl WOOLF (b.1973)
Après moi, le déluge (2006) [25:11]
David SANFORD (b.1963)
Scherzo Grosso (2005) [24:14]
Matt Haimovitz (cello) with: Ucello (Machine Gun), DJ Olive (Vinylcello), The University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir, Beverly Taylor (conductor Après moi, le deluge), The Pittsburg Collective, David Sanford (Scherzo Grosso)
rec. 11-12 June 2007, Pollack Hall, Schulich School of Music (Hendrix, Machover), 9-10 April 2007, Mills Auditorium, Mosse Humanities Building, University of Wisconsin-Madison (Woolf), 29 May 2005, The Knitting Factory, New York (Sanford).
OXINGALE OX2011 [77:08]


Colourful and innovative cellist Matt Haimovitz already has a number of interesting recording credits to his name, and with this release he presents a number of commissions written for his ‘Buck the Concerto’ series. As this title would suggest, the traditional concerto structure of soloist and variants on your average symphony or chamber orchestra has been thrown out of the window and substituted by non-traditional backing for the soloist. 

Machine Gun, Jimi Hendrix’s potent protest song against the Vietnam war, has been arranged by Haimovitz for his own all-cello ensemble Ucello based at McGill University. The variety of sounds from the cello are used highly effectively here, with the rhythmic backing of ticks, slaps and thuds providing an convincing drum track, the grinding bass line laying a weighty foundation, and Haimovitz’s solo cello soaring and screaming in a successfully impassioned tribute to Hendrix’s creativity on the electric guitar. This kind of thing has been done before with groups such as the Kronos Quartet, but the sheer volume of sound from multiple cellos suits this kind of treatment very well indeed, and the work seems shorter than its otherwise substantial 13 minute duration. 

The title track, Vinylcello, is the result of a close collaboration between Haimovitz, MIT Media Lab composer Tod Machover, and DJ Olive. The cello solo sounds are electronically treated, being sent to the left and right of the soloist, and manipulated to create rolling waves of sound either in sympathy with or tumultuously in argument against the soloist. Machover, himself a cellist, describes his writing for the instrument as ‘talking cello’, in which the player imitates ‘the speaking voice with words remaining just beyond comprehension.’ This kind of live electronic composition, working with the instrument and using it as a source for the transformed and distorted material, is often the ideal solution for such pieces – integrating sonorities and widening the potential of the instrument to create new effects. The piece is more than just mere effects however, with a clear flow and structure within nine sections, divided on the CD into three tracks, like a conventional concerto. There are some beautiful sounds, inevitably some material which is more challenging and some which seems a little thin and synthy relative to the rich sound of the cello itself, but in general this piece is relatively approachable when compared to some contemporary electronic work. I suspect however that it is rather more spectacular when experienced live. There is a limited edition 12” LP version of this album which includes the ‘VinylScore’ to this piece, which can be used for performance by other players. Oxingale can also provide the printed score and electronic triggers necessary for a complete performance for anyone keen to do the work in full. 

Après moi, le déluge is Luna Pearl Woolf’s response to the flooding and destruction in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The text, written by Eleanor Wilner in 2005, ranges from Noah’s Ark, the horrific imagery of ‘water, too deep for tears’, havoc and horror, and the revival of the blues, which waken again from the drowned city. The mood of such a piece is, as one might expect, relatively mournful. The chorus is often a restrained backdrop for the lamenting cello, with only the final movement having something of a celebratory element – sourcing a New Orleans funeral march style to illustrate “Lord, I’m goin’ down in Louisiana.” Like Hendrix’s Machine Gun, this is a kind of protest song, the words of the title deliberately chosen to point at the desperate situation in the south of the U.S., and the apparent dissolution of the ideal of a united populace. In this, and in creating a moving world of sonorities effective on many levels, it works very well indeed. 

The final work on this fascinating disc is Scherzo Grosso, a concerto in four movements for cello and big band. The piece has been recorded live, and as the photo inside the booklet indicates, has been taped very closely miked and in a very restricted space, but at least the audience is well behaved. The composer admits to a wide variety of influences, with the cello solo sometimes in dialogue with various members or sections of the band, at other points acting in the same was as a jazz or rock soloist or even as part of the rhythm section. The tradition of using a Big Band for serious musical expression is a strong if often fairly obscure one, with a few names such as Robert F. Graettinger and Franklyn Marks rising out of Stan Kenton’s ‘Progressive Jazz Orchestra’, and composers such as Leonard Bernstein and Igor Stravinsky using elements of the wide variety of colour and texture available from this kind of orchestra. David Sanford writes well for the band, and, while there are one or two places where some room for improvisation is allowed, has mostly kept to a highly disciplined and through-composed approach. From the powerful and rough to more reflective and poetic sections, there is plenty to ‘dig’ in this piece, and the musicians seem to be enjoying it as well. 

I have to admit to being new to the world of Matt Haimovitz, but judging by his already prolific recorded output there is clearly a great deal to discover. This CD is certainly a good starting point, with such a broad mix of genres and styles that one gains a strong impression of what makes this ‘guerrilla cellist’ tick. Far from throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if you are open to new combinations and fresh sounds then this set of unconventional ‘concertos’ is like an open window into what’s hot on the other side of the Atlantic.

Dominy Clements


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