January 16, 2016
Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha
Cipsela CIP 001
Creative Sources CS 320 CD
Traditionally the solo violin recital is more commonplace in the so-called classical world than in Jazz. So it’s no surprise that these high-quality instances of string improvisations arrive from two European whose initial background was in notated music. With 15 years between them, the older fiddler, Portuguese Carlos “Zíngaro” also dabbled in avant-rock music before devoting most of his work to improvisation alongside other sound explorers such as bassist Joëlle Léandre and saxophonist Daunik Lazro. Austrian string-player Mia Zabelka on the other hand, moves between New music and free improvisation where she has played with guitarist John Russell and alto saxophonist Audrey Lauro among others.
Both these sessions were recorded live, in the eclectically Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha in Zingaro’s case and Klanghaus Untergreith’s in Zabelka’s. Additionally while both work with electronics from time to time, each session here is completely acoustic although the younger player adds some this-side-of-Bedlam free-form vocalizing to her 10 tracks.
Measuring the echo effects of the venerable structure like a combination of outdoor geologist and laboratory researcher in half as many tracks as Zabelka’s, Zingaro extracts tinctures of languid romanticism alongside jumping spiccato agitation. Taking full advantage of the tractable ancient stones, place-marking echoes track his timbral transformations. “Portions of Life” for instance, which begins with a near-pastoral theme, is swiftly compromised as widening back-of-bow pressure creates a sharpened stridency that slides up the scale as it excites. Like a master deep sea fisher, who knows exactly how loose or taut the line should be, the violinist follows a similar method with his bow in addition to calculating precisely where pizzicato motions augment the performance. By “Scroll of Fate”, the final track, each improvisation have travelled up and down so many musical paths that the sonic reflections seem no more outlandish than someone changing from summer to winter garments. Being able to accompany themes at the same time as he advances them, the violinist glosses over the push-pull between pseudo-romanticism and sharpened atonality. His triumph is having the audience accept his sonic audacity with the same enthusiasm it would greet a Mozart performance.
Building on the pioneering work of the likes of Zíngaro, there seemed nothing shocking in Zabelka’s solo violin explorations on four successive Mondays at Klanghaus Untergreith, where she is artistic director. This CD is the result. Attuned to adopting nuanced gestures into violin-accelerated physical movements, each track illustrates a different string-trope. “Imminent disaster” for instance uses tremolo scratches and sprawls to suggest a swarm of angry bees. Around the string pops and picks on “Concentric circles” opposite textures sound as if a heavy object is being dragged across a wooden floor. Meanwhile “Stream of Consciousness” confirms her desire to use automatic-playing gestures to reach a more profound interface as if she was a medium mouthing messages from the departed. Ping-ponging between full spectrum romantic allusions to narrow pitch extensions her sweeps expose a vigorous mellowness taking enough from each tradition to legitimately reflect the Third Stream. The same sort of transformation appears on “Remembrance”. Initial string jitters give way to passages that could be part of a so-called classical intermezzo, then she appears to collect her wits enough to introduce shill jerks. But in the same way as she avoided faux-loveliness earlier on, her timbres never become ear-splitting or overly strident.
Vocalizing which shows up most prominently on tracks such as “Oscillations” and “Papagei” includes gurgles, retches, coos and cackles. Its antecedents appear to be the mouth improvisations of Phil Minton, Nicolas and Léandre with detours into Daisy Duck plus some masculine-sounding overtones. Unlike a teenager whose tonsorial choices are used to express defiant alternatives, Zabelka’s growls, mumbled and spit are in some ways an extension of her free association playing; inner monologues made aural. The key on “Papagei” for example is how appropriately her vocalized cries match her narrow string vibrations or later on how pigeon-like coos further modify the impressionistic program she creates instrumentally.
Solo violin may not be for everyone. But those interested in how two fiddlers from different generations handled the challenges would be well advised to hear these discs.
Track Listing: Live: 1. Crushing Wheels 2. Portions of Life 3. Twisted Chords 4. Voids of Night 5. Scroll of Fate
Personnel: Live: Carlos “Zíngaro” (violin)
Track Listing: Monday: 1. Dunkles zu sagen 2. Concentric circles 3. Oscillations 4.Strömungen 5. Imminent Disaster 6. Entfremdung 7. Stream of Consciousness 8. Papagei 9. Remembrance 10. Nachtbild
Personnel: Monday: Mia Zabelka (violin and voice)