“Blues Dialogues: Music by Black Composers” – w Rachel Barton Pine and Matthew Hagle – Cedille Records CDR 900000 182—75:51, ****1/2:
Rachel Barton Pine—in this release with pianist Matthew Hale, who joins her in some of the pieces—once again shows off her versatility and wide-ranging interest as a musician. And while “the blues” are the omnipresent thread that links this recording by black composers, the corpus isn’t a unified at all stylistically. These are mostly newly-written pieces, not arrangements of familiar tunes.
In the opening track by David Baker, Blues (Deliver my soul), a piece for violin and piano, might be as easy an opening as we might expect. There’s no question about its origin as a “blues piece,” and one that might be easily imagined with both violinist and pianist smiling as it opens and when it closes.
I will highlight some of the album’s diverse pieces in more detail.
William Grant Still’s Suite for violin and piano is cast in three movements, each one referencing a piece of sculpture. Both the composer’s writing and Barton Pine’s rendering evoke blues playing, but this is clearly a different piece, stylistically, from what opened the album. The ending of the first movement is an arresting moment, showing off the composer’s expert ability of writing effectively for the violin.
In a Sentimental Mood, an arrangement by Wendell Logan of a Duke Ellington standard, elevates our expectations again. Logan’s treatment employs specialty effects on the piano, which for me, put real focus on Matthew Hagle’s contribution. The piece works well with Barton Pine’s soulful, dark sound when playing from the lower register of her instrument.
Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Filter for Unaccompanied violin is yet another stylistic step (or two) away from the opening track. It requires a number of different sounds from Barton Pine, who executes the challenging work well.
Finally, the piece lending the album its name, Dolores White’s Blues Dialogues for solo violin, is a four movement suite; the opening is entitled “Blues Feeling” and is presented here as a dramatic and poetic cascade of moods. The contrast of ideas and sonic effects are extended in the second movement. “Fast and Funky,” the third movement, continues an intelligent juxtaposition of ideas, accelerated with a faster tempo. The closing movement evokes, for me, something nodding to Paganini in its opening, only to be revealed as something very different, underpinned with classical and blues elements (especially in its harmonic language). The liner notes indicate that the last movement was added more recently, and Barton Pine identifies Béla Bartók as an inspiration.
The album’s final piece, by Charles Brown (1974) seems a fitting coda to the album’s opening. It’s a treat to enjoy yet another sound Barton Pine pulls from her instrument.
This recording includes twenty-three tracks, and bonus material is also available online, which conceivably wouldn’t fit on the physical CD. As a celebration of music for violin alone and violin with piano by black composers, Barton Pine has pulled together a diverse set of pieces. As with any recording that mixes different styles of music, some pieces may resonate with us more than others, as was the case for me. Rachel Barton Pine, however, shows no indication of playing favorites, giving each piece its due with conviction, polish, and excellent intonation. As much of this music may be new to many listeners, the recording is also coupled with excellent notes.
More information and music samples at the Cedille website: