Keeping a diary doesn’t have to be an artistic project. A therapist might tell you that the act of journaling can help you make sense of your relationships, or else just serve as a memory aid. But asking anyone else to thumb through your otherwise private pages is a far more ambitious – and risky – enterprise. The journal-keeper better be fairly interesting, or at least keep good company. Luckily, Cornelius Dufallo – the violinist and composer who has played a key role in new-music ensembles such as Ne(x)tworks and ETHEL - has something precisely like this going for him on his latest Innova CD.
Having begun a series of concerts under the rubric of “Journaling” in 2009, this album of the same name is a diary of sorts, used for recording the musician’s impressions of the living composers who have collaborated with or else inspired him. The lineup of names is impressive in its diversity: works by John Luther Adams and the pianist Vijay Iyer haven’t yet appeared on many recordings together (though one can hope that this album will suggest the idea to other performers and commissioning groups).
The three-movement Adams piece, Three High Places is perhaps predictably spare in nature, though not in the wintry way you might expect. Its last movement, titled “Looking Toward Hope,” could serve as a subtitle for the album on the whole. Similarly, while Iyer’s piece requires some quick toggling between double-stop and pizzicato sections (which this violinist of course nails), it’s not mere technique-over-expression; “Playlist one (Resonance)” also features a folk-song feel that brings it into conversation with two of the Dufallo’s “Violin Loop” originals.
Less well known as a name but no less important to the mix here is the veteran downtown eminence John King: a composer equally at home writing for a rock-tinged ensemble or a string quartet. His Prima Volta, a notated piece that also makes use of computer-aided chance processes, adds a pleasingly discordant, electronic texture that the album needs. Given all the variety and relative concision of these pieces, Huang Ruo’s Four Fragments - the longest piece on “Journaling”– suffers for seeming not up to all that much. But that’s easily excused by the central conceit. Every day in a journal might not be a standout, but on the whole, this personal history is worth a hearing.
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