Malcolm Goldstein/The Ratchet Orchestra

Soweto Stomp
Mode 291

By Ken Waxman

Long-time Montreal resident, violinist Malcolm Goldstein, 79, has since the early 1960s negotiated the fissure between improvisation and composition from the so-called classical side of music. Now that the rest of the world has caught up with him, this fine session demonstrates how his ideas can be amplified by his adopted city’s 15-piece Ratchet Orchestra. Like the field commander who leads by example, the violinist is as much part of the fray as his much younger associates. Track one for instance “Configurations in Darkness” is a matchless instance of his knotty, string- jumping solo skill, that’s still sonorous enough to suggest a dulcet folksy air.

More indicative of the collaboration are tracks such as “In Search of Tone Roads #2”, from 2013 which is a reimaging of a lost Charles Ives composition; and the title tune written in 1985 to celebrate both the Soweto uprising against Apartheid and Martin Luther King’s achievements. Formalist without being formalistic, the first is no more an Ives copy than a photo of a smiling woman is the Mona Lisa. Instead, the cantilever arrangement mixes brass smears, peeping reeds and trombone counterpoint so that the tune evolves with its own narrative, mostly via Guillaume Dostaler’s piano chording, while also suggesting earlier pastoral themes. Meantime Goldstein plus two additional violinists and one violist scratch out cunning string splays that provide a circumscribed framework for the performance as it builds to a polyphonic crescendo. Invested with Kwela rhythms, Nicolas Caloia’s double bass bounce as well as a shuffle beat from percussionists Isaiah Ceccarelli and Ken Doolittle, “Soweto Stomp” recalls “Maiden Voyage” as much as Nelson Mandela, with five reedists bringing in jazz inflections to mix with near-hoedown fiddles lines that together leap to a triumphant peppery and peppy conclusion. Ahead of his time for many years, it appears Goldstein has hooked up with the perfect ensemble to aid in his musical interpretations.

-For The Whole Note September 2016