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.
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.
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.
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.
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.