Improvisation is the cauldron in which most great music is born, but for most musical acts it is just the beginning of the composing process. Some artists, though, are secure enough in their creative talents to make improvisation an integral component of their sound. The right musicians and framework can produce magic with this approach, and that’s precisely what a pair of internationally renowned string players have done on the self-titled debut album of Kamancello. If you like improvisation, chamber music, and portmanteaux, this is the album for you.
Kamancello juxtaposes the dynamic cello performance of Raphael Weinroth-Browne, whose many credits include a prominent role on the recent Leprous release Malina, with the melodic kamanche mastery of Shahriyar Jamshidi, a Kurdish artist from Iran. I imagine most western readers are, like me, familiar enough with the cello but totally new to the kamanche. Both stem from the same root family of four-string, bowed instruments; the kamanche is a bit like a middle-eastern violin, and as such typically occupies the higher register in the sonic space. The synergy between these two players from totally different backgrounds is stunning, and the fact that there are only two of them enables very intelligent shared navigation of the creative plane. They fluidly transition between atmospheres, melodies, and even pizzicato sections (as on “Incantation”). Whenever both instruments feel like advancing a melodic idea, they never feel like they are stepping on each other’s toes; when one takes on a subdued role to allow the other to shine, the complement and balance feels right. There is palpable weight to the music, in part thanks to excellent production, that makes it a warm and intriguing listen despite the stripped-down orchestration.
Both players bring a lot of dynamics and variety to the table, but I think Weinroth-Browne’s cello performance is especially gripping. There are a few moments where he furiously bows as if he were trying to perform orchestral death metal, as in much of “Serpentine” or the climax of “Radiance”. Jamshidi’s highlight is in the album closer “Ascent”, where he lets loose and takes over as the song progresses. While the duo tends toward minor scales, including some harmonic minor and Phrygian, the style really lends itself toward the major feel they utilize on “Radiance” (which reminds me of an emotion-filled Scottish/Irish highland folk piece) and “Ascent” (more of a classical chamber music with some jazz nuance), and leaves me wishing they had delved into Lydian a bit. “Solitude” may be the pinnacle of their improvisational balance, as there is a beautiful back-and-forth exchange of motives and ideas that builds to a fantastic and satisfying ending. These gentlemen are doing something totally unique and well worth your time; give them a listen and experience it for yourself!
An advanced digital copy of the album was sent to us.
Release date: 13 October 2017
1. Incantation – 8:21
2. Serpentine – 7:17
3. Radiance – 8:57
4. Confrontation – 5:53
5. Solitude – 9:24
6. Ascent – 9:26
Total running time: 49:18
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – cello
Shahriyar Jamshidi – kamanche
Filetype listened to: MP3
Bitrate: 320 kbit/s VBR
Sampling frequency: 44,100 Hz, 2 channels