Elliott Sharp & Charlotte Hug

Emanem 4143

Not your father’s string duo, these 14 gripping, tough and abrasive duets by American guitarist Elliott Sharp and Swiss violist Charlotte Hug shove any memory of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti or Stéphane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt aside.

Sharp, a polymath, equally comfortable with blues, rock, New music and improv, and Hug, whose associates range from Quebec laptoppist Chantale LaPlante to the London Improvisers Orchestra, do for their popular traditional instruments in the early 21st Century what those other duos did for them in the early 20th – create an up-to-date context for profound improvisation. To that end, while both use electronic to contrapuntally extend the sounds with pulsating wave forms and power-outage-like flanges on the final six tracks, the initial eight improvisations show that contemporary techniques can create almost the same effects acoustically.

Thus Sharp’s knife-style bottleneck licks and Hug’s accelerated spiccato bowing may be antiphonal at times, but their in-the-moment connections create textures which frame his nails-scrapping rasgueado motion and her sul ponticello leaps and flying staccato in polyphonic accord. Whether the performances involve coagulated harmonies or raspy portamento runs the finale ends with purposeful reflection of one another’s ideas.

Able to subdivide timbres still further with electrical add-ons, sounds become more spacious and metallic on the last tracks. Yet despite thunderstorm-like drones and piercing string whistles, the result is never inchoate. Traditional techniques, ranging from dobro-like frailing from one side and impressionistic portamento stroking on the other, combine with the signal processed spluttering and grinding into satisfying distinctive inventions.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 337