Gravitones & Strings

(for T)

See what I found in my mailbox: a CD - as per its title, recorded live at the BIMHUIS in Amsterdam - by a collective called Gravitones & Strings. The real leader of the session is a clarinet player and composer whose name sounds quite Italian to me, Augusto Forti (hence, the name of the label, right?). Recorded by Dick Lucas, so of course we have a very clear, expressive sound, on two different occasions (November 2000 and February 2003), by two different sets of players.

The line-up is of the kind that's usually defined as "prestigious": drums and percussions by Han Bennink and Michael Vatcher, violin by Mary Oliver, cello by Tristan Honsinger and Alex Waterman and so on (there is also Wilbert de Joode, one of my favourite double bass players of the last few years). I'd say that the mixture of (quite unusual) large quantities of string instruments such as ukelele, tenor ukelele, banjo (two of them!), mandolin, lapsteel guitar and electric guitar on one hand and the "classic Dutch line-up" instrumentation - clarinet, cornet, violin, cello, double bass and percussion - on the other is the feature that makes this work stand out.

What about the music? To put it in a nutshell, it could be said to be a nice mixture of a "light" version of the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra (Misha Mengelberg is missing, and not only his piano) and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra - listen to the arias, inspired by the Gagaku music, of the opening track, Gasaku; the gentle, almost-folk theme of Gasuto; and certain instrumental couplings - of banjo and guitar on one hand and strings and winds on the other. Tasty themes, not at all difficult to listen to, and improvisations which demonstrate - one more time - how well these musicians can play in this kind of framework.

The long track called Gasiform uses a svelte "swing with aplomb" formula, with - it goes without saying - dynamic propulsion by Bennink. Nice work by Forti on clarinet, Felicity Provan on cornet (also played with a mute), Greg Moore on tuba, Joost Buis on lapsteel and Mary Oliver on violin. But above all, it's the timbral mixture and the instrumental couplings that are quite nice, and "imaginative con brio".

Limits? The lack of real surprises. Here every listener will have to decide for him/herself.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2006 | May 12, 2006