Violinist Leonor Falcón takes a leap into the realm of the fantastical with her debut record, Imaga Mondoliterally, "Imaginary World" in Esperanto. Having long inhabited disparate musical territories, including classical stints with the Sirius Quartet and other chamber ensembles as well as her work with jazz musicians like Akua Dixon and Karl Berger, she's well-positioned to try something outside the ordinary. On these nine tracks, she succeeds in creating music that is both immediate and engaging and, at the same time, just a bit odd and unsettling.
Falcón has an inviting tone on the violin, with a strong melodic sensibility that colors all her playing. But she's also got an ear for the uncanny, and on most of the music here there's a sneaking sense that something strange is happening; we're never permitted to get too comfortable. The best example of Falcón's concept is the opening cut, "Nymphs and Spacemen," where multiple overdubbed violin parts, including pizzicato phrases and ultra-long glissandos, allow her to create a disconcerting soundscape that is then joined to a winsome folk melody superimposed on it. The title of the piece perfectly captures the music's simultaneous evocation of lands both unearthly and mythological.
It helps that Falcón has chosen sympathetic partners for this project, as they're just as capable of straddling musical worlds and venturing out into the unknown. Drummer Juan Pablo Carletti, guitarist Juanma Trujillo and bass clarinetist Christof Knoche all get their opportunities to take some chances, whether on rock-inspired tracks like "Humanoides" and "Striding" where Trujillo gets out his effects pedals during his rangy guitar solos, or the freely-improvised "JP and Christof," featuring Knoche's ecstatic bursts over Carletti's constantly shifting rhythms. The closing cut," Chorale," is another instance of the musicians' ability to occupy that space between the usual and the unusual: it starts with Trujillo's pastoral ruminations on electric guitar before the other three join in, at which point Knoche's dark, haunting tones provide a hint of menace that Falcón and Trujillo build upon in finishing the record with a somewhat disquieting conclusion.
Despite the album's strengths, there are moments in which it seems as though Falcón wants to showcase the group's stylistic diversity rather than stay with the thematic terrain of the record. "Play More Bebop" is a fairly conventional try at that genre, but it barely gets off the ground at under three minutes, and the musicians don't seem to know what to do with it. "Parima" is another piece that doesn't really fit the record's concept: it's a jaunty Latin folk duet featuring Falcón and Trujillo, but it doesn't offer much beyond a pleasant interlude.
All told, Falcón's ambitious and idiosyncratic debut reveals that she has the potential to craft a unique musical approach. Hopefully she'll continue to develop it on her future releases.
Nymphs and Spacemen; Gnomes; Play More Bebop; Cronopios; Humanoides;
Parima; JP and Christof; Striding; Chorale.
Leonor Falcón: violin; Juanma Trujillo: guitars, mandolin (4); Christof Knoche: bass
clarinet, alien voice (8); Juan Pablo Carletti: drums.