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Maureen Choi: Theia

Jim Worsley By

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Maureen Choi's classical training and leanings are at the forefront and provide a substantial foundation. The palette is then wide open to incorporate jazz, flamenco, and fandango. Theia has a distinctive array of colors and has profoundly compelling undertones. Each song is its own unique journey with unknown passages, trap doors, and idiosyncratic paths leading to seamless tempo changes and unrestrained exploration.

Theia opens with its most spacious and exhilarating piece. Choi's epic composition "Phoenix Borealis" traverses explosive peaks, quiet valleys, and deft twists and turns with abandon. Opening with innocence, the piece travels quickly to a land that is prog rock in scope. It elevates to a hard-edged tapestry of fusion, that ( only somewhat tongue in cheek) has a Zbigniew Seifert on acid feel, that also evokes the pleasingly wrenched drippings of avant-garde clarinetist and saxophonist Captain Beefheart. There is an outside the box brilliance to "Phoenix Borealis."

Imagery is found in the quartet's music as visions of the king and queen's court dancing jauntily at the palace come to life in "Canto Salamanchino," also penned by Choi. In "Silverio O. Garcia" she provides the listener with a sizable taste of intrigue and entrancing serenity. Choi's technical skills are very much on display on Paco De Lucia's "Cepa Anduluza"(subtitled here as "Dear Paco"). This tribute to the impeccable virtuoso is played with heart and embraced with respect. Another song written by Choi is the soft, dark, and airy "Sinner's Prayer." Here the ensemble brings forth a quadrant of sophisticated interplay. Written by her pianist, Daniel Diego Garcia, "Love is the Answer" is perhaps the signature piece in that it glowingly identifies and represents the dynamics of the nuanced flamenco, classical, and jazz blend they have created. No doubt influenced by Jean-Luc Ponty (improbable that any modern day jazz violinist hasn't been), Choi's intricate and buoyant tidal wave, "Bok Choi (Pajarillo)" doesn't feature the abundant passages found in the other tunes. It instead is a riveting full speed ride. As there was really no other direction to go, "September, the First" slows down the pace with an elegant and hushed beauty that willows into ecstasy.

The record closes with a song that showcases it all, and then some. The directional compass spinning in control with fervent and engaging changes. Choi exercises her jazz chops most vigorously and stridently as her ensemble kicks into the jazz groove. Well into the song, there is a thirty second pause for effect. It then continues with a lighter texture, perhaps a Grappelli-esque vibe, and closes out with Choi's melodic pizzicato finger plucking. The gap speaks to what the incomparable Miles Davis once said, "The space and notes you don't play are as important as those you do." Here it helps define "Danza Ritual del Fuego" into a more complete and most thoughtful flamenco inspired story. It leaves the listener where we began, with a masterpiece of engrossing and epic proportions.

The quartet's third record demonstrates Choi's leadership qualities and leaves no doubts that she is free of any self-imposed bridles or restraints. Riding the crest of the masterly and polished Theia, this virtuoso violinist is free as a bird to passionately soar and glide to uncharted heights.

Track Listing: Phoenix Borealis; Dance of the Fallen; Canto Salamanchino; Silverio O. García; Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); Sinner's Prayer; Love is the Answer; Bok Choi (Pajarillo); September, the First; Danza Ritual del Fuego.

Personnel: Maureen Choi: violin; Daniel García Diego: piano; Mario Carrillo: double bass; Michael Olivera: drums.

Title: Theia | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Barco Records

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