Capricci armonici [5:00]
Calata per cantare [2:38]
Corrente franzese [1:54]
Passacagli per tutte le lettere [7:55]
Rolf Lislevand (baroque guitar/chitarra battente/lute); Thor-Harald Johnsen (chitarra battente/baroque guitar); Bjørn Kjellmyr (colascione); Ulrik Gaston Larsen (baroque guitar/theorbo)
rec. 2006, Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland NAÏVE V5361 [52:51]
I’ve been a big fan of Rolf Lislevand since encountering his ECM albums Nuove musiche and Diminuito. His blend of early music panache with a modern twist is to my ears very compelling, though there will inevitably be purists who will find his approach cause for reproach. Scaramanzia we are told in the booklet, is “an Italian [word] whose English translation lies somewhere between superstition and malediction. The superstition that prompts us to avoid making a gesture or uttering certain words per scaramanzio, for fear they may come true.”
These “haunting formulas” in terms of music include ostinato basses, and the sound of this ensemble is built on the bass tones of Bjørn Kjellmyr, an eminent jazz player and former sideman to Chet Baker. When it appears, his colascione has a firm tone which can ground the transparency of the upper instruments without destroying the magical textures that they create.
The essence of these pieces is re-composition and to the creation of what Lislevand terms ‘genuine’ improvisation, by which he means the 17th century performance styles of diminution and ornamentation, rather than ‘spontaneous composition’. Pieces are re-invented and re-defined, and the freedoms taken are in the means with which they are performed, and the generating of ideas that make them unique and individual. The constant repetition of performances from written scores as a hopefully reliable return to the original ideas of the composer is a relatively recent idea, and this kind of ‘taking in hand’ of old musical ideas to create new and personal statements is very refreshing indeed.
Extended explorations of a restricted but subtly elaborated harmonic progression in something like the Passacaille/Prelude/Sarabande/Gigue create a striking atmosphere, and enigmatic presence that is indeed haunting in its upper string timbres. Following this with the popular Calata per cantare based on music by the Italian guitarist Antonio Carbonchi is a master stroke, and the following Tarantella raises the bar even higher into a virtuoso journey of substantial dimensions. Composer names where appropriate are given in brackets in the booklet, but in the end these are less important. As the launch-point for each piece they gave their contributions back in the mists of time, and these performances are for the here and now.
Each track has its own special quality, but the Passacagli per tutte le lettre based on music by Domenico Pellegrini is another intimate performance spiced up with some intriguing ‘wrong notes’. The title track Scaramanze is another piece originating from Carbonchi, building from a solo into something with quiet, almost menacing power as the parts fold over each other in canon, and the sequences are interrupted for further musings and dialogues. The final Canarios is rousing and reflective almost in equal measure, a fitting farewell to a very fine album indeed.
If you enjoy the magic of multiple plucked strings then this will be your kind of recording. It’s the kind of thing which can provide a sprinkling of genius to the soundtrack of your life, and can be an immersive transport of delight to take you far away from the daily grind if you let it soak in properly.