O’Connor Method – Mark O’Connor Plays The Classics

by | Jul 28, 2014 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

MOC4 – O’Connor Method – Mark O’Connor Plays The Classics – self, 58:38 [Distr. by Allegro] ****1/2:

(Mark O’Connor – violin, arrangements; violin duets with Tessa Lark; Angella Ahn; Sara Caswell; Brad Phillips; Kelly Hall -Tompkins; Jeremy Kittel; William Schimmel – accordion; Dan Nimmer – piano; Brendan Dolan – piano; Joe Smart – guitar; Matt Munisteri – guitar; Brad Phillips – mandolin)

Seattle native Mark O’Connor has succeeded where few violinists could. He developed as a classical musician and fiddler. Throughout his career, he combined both genres with affirmation and heartfelt passion. He has composed multiple symphonies for violin and performs in Nashville in a piano trio inspired by Johnny Cash music. His repertoire extends to gypsy jazz, rock, bluegrass and other formats. Renowned dance troupes (Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, New York City Ballet) have adopted his music for their recitals. Additionally, he has collaborated with documentarian Ken Burns. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment is as a teacher. The groundbreaking O’Connor Violin Method (which takes an American classical approach to modern violin playing) has been hailed as a legitimate rival to the Suzuki method since its inception in 2009.

MOC4 (the latest installment of the O’Connor Method) is a wide array of Americana-influenced violin pieces. The opening is a surprise, as it is a piece by Mozart (“Life Let Us Cherish”). In the hands of O’Connor it is played in a “jig” mode. According to the liner notes, many classical European compositions were interpreted in this manner.  There are several moving country/western tracks. “Faded Love” (a duet with Tessa Lark) is lyrical and resonates with harmonic elegance. Alfred E. Brumley’s gospel hymnal “I’ll Fly Away” begins with a steady deliberation accompanied by piano, but has an interesting unamplified chord-shifting transition, before engaging in a barrelhouse romp. O’Connor has an innate sense of musical textures and styles. Cajun favorite “Jole Blon” (recorded by Roy Acuff and Doug Kershaw, among many others) has the perfect mix of waltz-time precision and regional ambiance. He performs this in a duet with Angella Ahn)

O’Connor takes on seminal jazz numbers with enthusiasm. “Minor Swing” has all of the phrasing and rhythm swing inherent in Django Reinhardt songs. ‘Take Five” is played with the quirky 5/4 time signature and O’Connor and pianist Dan Nimmer (Wynton Marsalis band) interact like Brubeck and Desmond. Even historical jazz/blues compositions are fair game. W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” displays the melancholic agility and subtle expression that surrounded early jazz recordings.

On country-based arrangements, Mark O’Connor is transformative. Byron Berline’s “Gold Rush” (with Brad Phillips) crackles with exuberance and superb bluegrass technique. “Ashokan Farewell” (written in 1982 by Jay Unger, but feels like a mid-19th century Scottish hymnal) simply glows in the hands of O’Connor and Kelly Hall-Tompkins. At the other end of the interpretive spectrum, the original composition “Emily’s Reel” (with Jeremy Kittel) bristles with a playful, square dance resonance. O’Connor first performed this with Yo Yo Ma on the Grammy-winning Appalachian Journey. A spirited cover of “La Bamba” brings this labor of love to a dynamic close.

Mark O’Connor Plays The Classics is great music with a distinct artistic edge.

TrackList: Life Let Us Chrish; Hornpipes (Tin Wedding/Golden Eagle/Ostinelli’s); Faded Love; Clarinet Polka; I’ll Fly Away; Jole Blon; Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars; Minor Swing; Take Five; St. Louis Blues; Mark’s Waltz; Canadian Tunes; San Antonio Rose; Gold Rush; Beaumont Rag; Dawn Waltz; Tico-Tico No Fuba; It Don’t Mean A Thing (If I Ain’t Got That Swing); Ahokan Farewell; Bach Partita No. 2: Allemande; Emily’s Reel; La Bamba

—Robbie Gerson

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