‘The White Barn Duets’ = [TrackList follows] Gil Selinger, cello/Evan Mazunik, piano – White Barn Studio, 63:29 ****:

Taken right from cellist Gil Selinger’s website, “notation is to improvisation as the portrait is to the living model”, according to composer Ferruccio Busoni and as practiced by Selinger and his present collaborator, pianist Evan Mazunik. All the tracks on this fascinating disc are pieces that are actually improvised in creation and which could be notated afterwards. The results are quite entertaining and make for very nice listening!
In researching these artists I found that Selinger’s background is in classical, jazz, and free improvisation, all of which he has merged into a style called “Classical Improvisation”. As a soloist Selinger has appeared with the Brooklyn Philharmonic playing “Chant Du Menestral” by Alexander Glazunov, and he has recorded together with the Modern Chamber Orchestra the Haydn Cello Concerto in C major, both as written and as an improvised composition together with Sound Painting Conductor Walter Thompson. Gil has also appeared on tour throughout Europe, the USA, Australia, New Zealand. He has performed with many musicians such as Daniel Carter, Steve Swell, Todd Reynolds, Sonny Murray, Marilyn Crispell, Satoshi Takeishi, Anders Nilsson, Francois Grillot, Assif Tsahar, Marvin Hamlisch, Petr Kotik, Archie Shepp, Ryan Sawyer, Jessica Pavone, and more.
Taken from Mazunik’s website, Evan Mazunik is a composer/performer raised in Iowa and working in Queens, NY. Fluent in Soundpainting, a sign language for live composition, Mazunik is composer/director for ZAHA, his experimental chamber ensemble. His compositions include commissions for jazz band, chorus, theater, dance, and film, and his work was featured in a documentary for the Finnish Broadcasting Company. Mazunik has performed with Anthony Braxton, Walter Thompson, Carla Bley, Robin Eubanks, Danielson, and Sufjan Stevens, and has played at creative music venues such as Roulette, The Stone, Barbes, and Galapagos. He received a Bachelors degree in piano performance and a Masters in jazz studies from the University of Iowa and has taught improvisation at the University of Indiana and the Royal Academy of Music in London. Mazunik currently serves as music director at Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, where he infuses ancient liturgy with contemporary innovation.
The music on this disc is truly interesting and covers a lot of different styles. For example, at one end of the spectrum, “The Fall of ‘29” is a very free and wild foray into sounds that feel like a sort of Webern meets Thelonius Monk and is frantic but fascinating. The opening brief “Jimbaran” is a very restful, pretty and somewhat New Age sounding work with a slight minimalist touch to it; very nice!
Three of the tracks – the improvisations – are titled “sonata”.  The “Sonata #9, ‘Americana’ “ is a very buoyant and uplifting work that sounds like a bit of Copland mixed with jazz. There is a catchy syncopation within the opening bars that leads eventually to a very open, panoramic mid section, that – to me – channeled Copland and Harris a bit. The work really does sound a bit “American” and evokes a landscape throughout.  The closing track, “Sonata #10” is quite a bit different in its feel but it, too, is a very effective work, with a sort of languorous opening and harmonies that drift around some cello utterances. This work feels improvised in spots but interlaced with some nice melodies piano commentary that resembles Hindemith in places. The second, “Sonata #8” also has a dark, ponderous feel to it at first that is immediately attention getting. At seventeen plus minutes, this is also the longest work in this collection and quite satisfying.
My favorite track might be the third, “Lament”. This is a lovely and plaintive offering that evokes things which are bittersweet, longing and reminiscent. Of all the pieces performed here this is the one that actually sounds through composed; all the more impressive that it must not have been.
This whole disc is quite enjoyable. Selinger and Mazunik are doing something quite unusual and it certainly seems to work. I think this disc appeals to fans of cello playing and maybe to those who want to hear music that it improvised in ways that the term “improvisation” does not ordinarily conjure up.
TrackList:
1. Jimbaran
2. Sonata #8
3. Lament
4. Fall of ’29
5. Sonata #9 “Americana”
6. Krytyka
7. Ballet Comique
8. Sonata #10
—Daniel Coombs