The concept of "free" is linked with jazz more than any other music genre. But "free" to do what, exactly? Free to think what you like, play what you want, express what you must? May as well throw in the freedom to live how you choose. Listening to violinist Sarah Bernstein's music, these questions occur as she delights in breaking conventions. Her avant-jazz Sarah Bernstein Quartet exudes calm control even as it induces awe and fear. Among her solo projects is Exolinger, where the violin grinds out a distorted dystopian soundtrack.
Crazy Lights Shining is the second outing in her guise as Sarah Bernstein Unearthish. She teams up with drum maestro Satoshi Takeishi, whose many credits include Randy Brecker and Anthony Braxton. The album features Bernstein's poetry, recited over a post-tonal backing with subtle polyrhythms. The poems also hark to a sense of freedom that might be recognized by Beat poets such as Diane DiPrima and Anne Waldman. Maybe the sound of Sarah Bernstein is that of culture fighting for its liberty.
On "For Plants," Bernstein's phased vocals merge with violin scrapings like something, well, unearthish in the woods. "Safe" is all funky pizzicato and popping percussion, whilst she swings it like Stephane Grappelli on "Map Or Meaningless Map," and then swoops into classical mode. Yet for all her musical talent, Bernstein offers few pyrotechnics as she intones her abstract poetry. She seems more concerned with giving a performance that allows for our involvement. Thus, on "The Place (Instrumental)" you might insert your own location, as it equally evokes dawn in the city or dusk in the outback.
A need for freedom reasserts itself on "Drastic Times," where staccato notes punctuate each protesting phrase. "Little Drops" gives snippets from the life of Bernstein's father, but ends in a fuzz-fest, like a whole existence being compressed. "The Place" has that surreal sense of being in a waking dream, and then "Four Equals Two" plays out with sustained notes over melting beats.
Bernstein's rhythms and rhymes are fluid, her energy a wild-water torrent. "Do you not want to have your thoughts exploded?," she asks at one point. Crazy Lights Shining blows up whatever comfort zone we have eased ourselves into.
For Plants; Safe; Map Or Meaningless Map; Crazy Lights Shining; The Place (Instrumental); Drastic Times; Little Drops; The Place; Four Equals Two.
Sarah Bernstein: violin, voice, text, composition; Satoshi Takeishi: drums, percussion.