Maya Homburger/Barry Guy: Ceremony (ECM New Series 1643)

 

Maya Homburger
Barry Guy
Ceremony

Maya Homburger baroque violin
Barry Guy double-bass
Recorded April and July 1997, Propstei St. Gerold and Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Peter Laenger and Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

By definition, the concept of “ceremony” is rooted in an abiding adherence to formality, regularity, and gesture. As the title of this equivocal recording, it bends to a different set of rules. The quill that writes them belongs in the alternating grips of Baroque violinist Maya Homburger, making her New Series debut, and bassist Barry Guy. Dipping into the ink well of Heinrich Franz Biber, the inestimable duo scratches its captivating deconstructions in a jagged improvisational script. Yet it is in between the lines where the real ceremony takes place.

Annunciation chalks the Praeludium of Biber’s Mystery Sonata No. 1 (“The Annunciation”) as the denominator by which Guy’s compositional numerators come to be defined. Its signals are grand and highly detailed, each evocative of an era relived through its instruments. Stepping out of this door, we walk into Celebration, a free-spirited violin solo distilled from a wealth of motivic information. Looking up into the Immeasurable Sky, we enter a gangly dream in which the progress of travel is meted out slowly at the hands of an unseen guide. Dancing turns into language, and language turns into art: the cartographer’s aspirations brought to light in sound. And when at last the Ceremony commences, it paints a lush fantasy that never quite sets its feet upon solid ground. Throughout its nearly 17-minute duration, the magic of multitracking allows Homburger to work her fractal spell. Perfect fifths are drawn out into a fine mesh to catch the dizzying agitations that follow. Forged by well-tempered strings, each intention is magnified by its situatedness in the dying echo of the last. We then find ourselves Still. Counterpart to the Celebration, this piece for bass alone circumscribes the ceremony with pensive cleansings before Breathing Earth takes the last movement of the Biber sonata and works it into a similar transfiguration of elements.

The Baroque passages glimmer like reflections of some hidden genius, exposing the dedication poured into a craft before it is opened to scrutiny. The sensitivity of their denouement is what really captivates throughout this fine disc, and in it we can always find a burnished string onto which we might place our own tattered bow of appreciation.

Barry Guy: Folio (ECM New Series 1931)

 

Barry Guy
Folio

Maya Homburger baroque violin
Muriel Cantoreggi violin
Barry Guy double-bass
Münchener Kammerorchester
Christoph Poppen conductor
Recorded February 2005, Himmelfahrtskirche, München
Engineer: Peter Laenger
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Over the years, ECM New Series listeners will have variously encountered Barry Guy as composer, performer, and improviser. In Folio, we get to experience all three. I have always found his improvisatory role to be the most compelling, for it stirs my heart with communicative possibilities. And so, in the spirit of living in the moment, I share this review verbatim, as I dictated it while listening:

“Barry Guy is very much concerned with the internal, the biological nature of music. The seemingly sourceless energy it evokes through human contact enables us to question our own energy: whether it is divinely given or naturally ordained. While his epic explorations of thematic material by Diego Ortiz betray a more honed compositional reach, Guy still inhales the oxygen of indeterminacy. This music functions very much like memory: when one focuses on one memory, others try to creep in, sometimes courting unwanted associations, secrets we would rather not acknowledge…. Even at its most dynamic moments, this music is all about gentility and caution—not as a sign of fear…but as a way of life, a philosophy. The improvised ‘commentaries’ peppered throughout add a rich sense of bulk to the album’s presence…but one shouldn’t think they are any less substantial, for they wouldn’t be what they are without their source texts. They give the musicians a crisp field in which to ponder the emotional implications of what they have just played…to share those feelings with the listener rather than covet them unceremoniously. The ‘Folio’ pieces are richer in orchestral texture. They tap into a broader sensibility of the music’s own potential while also burying the possible egotism of the solo artist…in a lush balance of restraint and emotional surrender. Guy uses gimmicks briefly and wisely, and is never afraid to stutter. This is music that never edits itself. The commentaries are immediate responses. They do not simply act as arbitrary filler material, but rather speak to the lingering effects…grasping on to those effects before they fade out of sight and out of mind. And so, I think this is why Track 13 is called ‘Memory,’ for what is commentary but solidified memory shared with others…? And similarly, what is a review but a memory…a conscious chronicling of an experience that can never be recaptured, but only inadequately preserved in one person’s thought. For rather than a simple memory, I should like to share a record of my experience. This track also speaks to me in the same way we often search through our memories for an originating thought. Oftentimes, especially as we are going to sleep, we let our minds wander, only to backtrack, looking for that one sound or image or word or impression that launched our mental exploration…and this is perhaps what we stumble into in ‘Ortiz II,’ which in some way charts the frustration of our psychological imperfections, while also exploiting those imperfections to audible effect. This is an altogether intriguing album, which is always greater than the some of its parts, as it allows for the listener’s own reflection and for the compositional nature of personality to run amok, or slumber as it may, in pockets of empty space.”