Carlos Zingaro: Spectrum (2009)
A group made up entirely of strings might initially suggest chamber music, but this all-European trio produces music that crosses many boundaries, not so much to create music that's eclectic but to define its own terrain. Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro is a well-known exponent of free improvisation while the bassist Wilbert De Joode has served as foundation in a broad spectrum of Amsterdam-based bands from jazz to free improvisation. But what most defines this group's original sound is the presence of Dominique Regef, the French master of the hurdy-gurdy (or sanfona or vielle à roue, other names offered on this CD) or wheel fiddle, a medieval form of violin played with a wheel that functions as a bow. Exploiting the instrument's drone string and employing some novel playing techniques (there are rhythmic patterns that sound like a playing card in a bicycle wheel), Regef provides plenty of sonic stimulation to Zingaro and De Joode as well as some adept improvisations.
Divided into three long tracks, the first begins with a curiously poetic prelude in which sounds that approximate a classical ensemble tuning up suddenly drift to light, wispy sounds and then fall silent. It's almost a putting to rest of some string conventions. The longest piece, the 25-minute "Spectra 02," begins with Zingaro archly melodic in a startlingly vibrant upper register while De Joode plays sudden arpeggios and Regef creates a "bee-loud glade," a dense buzzing drone. If the opening would sound at home with one of the Bartók violin concertos, that intensity transmutes time, eventually creating a vibrating sonic world. It's not one you'd necessarily associate with the practices of free improvisation, but summons up a primal village music that seems to stretch across a lost century, fusing Persian and Indian influences through North Africa into Spain and the rest of Europe. It's a sound that is local and universal, primeval and contemporary. It's the kind of brilliant result that can only arise in the spontaneous encounter of strong musical personalities.
Track Listing: Spectra 01; Spectra 02; Spectra 03.
Personnel: Carlos Zíngaro: violin; Dominique Regef: hurdy gurdy; Wilbert DeJoode: bass.