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A Different Take
Gruca White Ensemble
rec. 2020, Audio Recording Studio, Cleveland; Murbo Music Publishing Inc, USA BIG ROUND RECORDS BR8964 [57:49]
This is indeed a different take. Two superb musicians with the seemingly limited sound world of the combination flute and guitar, but in reality capable of producing a myriad of sonorities as well as rhythmical varieties in a repertoire of more or less contemporary works by to me totally unknown composers. All right, Stevie Wonder was a known capacity, albeit not this particular tune. But the traversal of this close to hour-long programme was a fascinating and varied trip through a foreign landscape and when I reached the finish line I felt deep satisfaction. Here was a conglomerate of influences from many corners of the world: Argentina, Mali, Japan, Balkan, the Middle East and naturally North America. Linda White also changes between the traditional concert flute and the more rarely heard alto and bass flutes. The opening work, guitarist Stephen Goss’s From Honey to Ashes is a set of eleven pieces, from which the Gruca White Ensemble have chosen the last three pieces following each other attacca. Initially rather minimalistic there is a good deal of improvisation – or so it seems. The second movement, Tango Brawl, is a homage to Piazzolla and the concluding The Ajman has Arabic overtones.
Carl Dimow’s Dreams of Yesterday and Tomorrow comes from his Klezmer Suite and here are features from both Jewish and Middle Eastern music. It is played on the bass flute and the deeper tones lend an oriental atmosphere to the music. Sometimes I imagine a caravan of camels wandering through the desert. Dimow sees the piece as “a kind of prayer for peace in the Middle East”. In Soledad we hear influences of the iconic Piazzolla again, and in the funky Use Me by the recently deceased Bill Withers Linda White uses growl effects from the flute.
Alan Thomas’s The Shepherd’s Dream has a fascinating background story and I quote from the liner notes: “While perusing a folk song collection, I came across a little tune labelled ‘Croatian Lovesong’. Though only eight bars long and extremely simple in its rhythmic and melodic construction, I became somewhat obsessed by the haunting beauty of the melody. I am often troubled by these ‘earworms’, and as I sang the melody over and over in my mind, an image began to form a shepherd on a hillside in the still evening air, playing variations on the melody as he drifted off to sleep.” It is played on the alto flute and the melody really sticks. I had to return to it at once and I feel just as obsessed as Alan Thomas. This will be a new favourite of mine!
Chamber Music is music created by Ballaké Sissoko from Mali and Vincent Segal from France. They combined the sound of the kora, a traditional plucked string instrument from West Africa, with a modern cello. Here Linda White plays the cello part on the bass flute and Robert Gruca uses a unique tuning of the guitar to imitate the kora. The result is fascinating. Also the next piece, Homage to the Harvest Moon by Masamitsu Takahashi, was composed for traditional, in this case Japanese, instruments: shinobue a kind of bamboo flute, and koto, a 13-string plucked instrument. Gruca White play on their modern Western instruments but imitate what is characteristic of the Japanese instruments. Harvest moon is an autumn festival in Japan where they celebrate the moon which is at its brightest. Remember the 1956 movie with Marlon Brando: The Teahouse of the August Moon.
Stevie Wonder’s soul tune I Wish is here softened down to a more intimate format than the original, which was issued as long ago as 1976, but there is still a lot of go in it. While back in the US we are transported to Great Lakes area, the home region of Gruca White Ensemble. Lake Effect refers to the winter snow storms common there, the guitar portraying swirling of the snow. An evocative illustration that makes me shiver with cold, so well-known also in my Scandinavian abode. It is a relief then to be transported southwards to the equatorial region and the land of the Bossa Nova in Bossa Blue, part of a larger composition, Suite for Flute and Guitar, composed in 2017 for the Gruca White Ensemble by Stephen Stanziano. It is a true Bossa Nova but with a difference: it is in 5/4 time!
The programme finishes with the earliest composition here: Peter Green’s Black Magic Woman, launched by Fleedwood Mac in 1968. Once again Linda White features the bass flute to great effect.
It has been a thrilling ride around the world. Whether it should be labelled World Music or Cross-Over or plainly Borderless is a matter of taste. Whatever you call it the only common denominator is the superb musicianship and high octane playing of the Gruca White Ensemble. And now I hope you can excuse me, but I have to go back and listen to The Shepherd’s Dream once again!
Performers: Robert Gruca, guitar, Linda White, flutes
Contents Stephen GOSS (b. 1964)
From Honey to Ashes (2007) [4:13] Carl DIMOW
Dreams of Yesterday and Tomorrow (2013) [7:59] Patrick ROUX
Soledad (1997) [6:08] Bill WITHERS (1938–2020)
Use Me (1972) [3:16] Alan THOMAS
The Shepherd’s Dream (2014) [5:52] Ballaké SISSOKO (b. 1968)
Chamber Music (2009) [4:50] Masamitsu TAKAHASHI (?)
Homage to the Harvest Moon (1982) [8:31] Stevie WONDER (b. 1950)
I Wish (1976) [4:37] Marchall GRIFFITH
Lake Effect (2007) [5:01] Stephen STANZIANO
Bossa Blue (2017) [3:24] Peter GREEN (1946–2020)
Black Magic Woman (1968) [3:58]