Violinist Michael Galasso has to be one of the most enigmatic figures on the ECM roster. After releasing but a single album for the label, '83's solo Scenes
, he then seemed to fall off the face of the earthat least the more conventional music scene. That doesn't imply, however, that he's been inactive. In fact, while High Lines
is only the second album to be released under his own name, he's been an busy contributoractor, dancer, performer, and composerin film and theatre, most notably in his collaborations with dramaturge Robert Wilson. Wilson has teamed with better-known artists over the years, including Philip Glass, David Byrne, Lou Reed, and Tom Waits. But his work with Galasso represents the largest portion of his oeuvre, and it's a combination of this work, as well as Galasso's seemingly insatiable appetite for all things musical from many cultures that makes High Lines
such a diverse and intensely visual performance.
Galasso makes use of a broader sonic palette this time arounddouble-bassist Marc Marder and percussionist Frank Colón, with whom Galasso has teamed at various times in the past, are joined by Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal, an ECM stalwart suggested for the session by label owner/producer Manfred Eicher. The leader picks up where Scenes left off by delivering a number of pieces for solo or multitracked violin, in addition to compositions that explore a wider range of textures and dynamics. That Rypdal sat in with no preconception or planning, ultimately taking Galasso's compositions to unexpected places with his soaring, heavily-effected tone and more assertive stance, is testimony to his inherent intuitiveness, Eicher's instincts, and Galasso's writing.
Galasso was born into a musical family in Louisiana, entering the improvisational fray from a more rigid classical upbringing by playing with members of the New Orleans community, including Ellis Marsalislong before he became the notorious patriarch of a family almost single-handedly responsible for the ultraconservative narrowing of the focus of jazz in the '80s and beyond. Through his exposure to everything from the music of Bach and Cage to free jazz and more worldly concerns through visits to the Middle East in the mid-'70s, Galasso discovered that musical boundaries merely constrict the possibilities of personal expression. And so, in his writing, Galasso would look for ways to combine these divergent sources into a focused approach that takes its roots seriously, while sounding like none of them explicitly.
"Carevanserai Day and "Carevanserai Night evoke images of desert vistas, while "Never More, with its plaintive leaning, looks back to music of the 17th Century. "Gothic Beach, with Colón's brushwork emulating the sound of the ocean, is more ambient in nature, contrasting with the more insistently rhythmic "The Other, featuring Rypdal's rock inflections, and "Quarantine, with its Glass-like minimalism.
But while individual tracks reflect Galasso's voracious musical concerns, High Lines remains a remarkably cohesive affair, largely due to sequencing that allows Galasso's virtuosic yet never self-indulgent skill to evolve a work of cinematic scope and evocative depth.
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