Kamancello – II: Voyage

Comprising Canadian cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Iranian kamanche player Shahriyar Jamshidi, Kamancello is the fruit of collaborative improvisation, with the dynamic skill sets of each player bouncing off each other in unique and enchanting ways. Weinroth-Browne has, in a sense, the more challenging job of delicately balancing low-end rhythmic richness with melodic lead performance and harmonization; Jamshidi, with all his talents, is restricted to the higher range of his kamanche (think Persian violin) and thus contributes almost exclusively higher leads and harmonies. The duo juggles their three modes (kamanche leading, cello leading, dual harmony leads) with precision and aplomb. Coming off an enchanting 2017 debut, the duo decided to pursue fewer but broader tracks on their follow-up, Voyage.

“Emergent” lives up to its title by starting off very restrained, hiding, teasing the prospective listener at what delights might await within its shell. Once the strings begin to “emerge”, they present a very classical chamber feel, blending romantic expression with the melodic sensibility of traditional folk. Weinroth-Browne begins to flex around the four-minute mark, bending his bow in a wavelike pattern across his strings, and Jamshidi, hearing this as an invitation, similarly brightens his own instrumentation shortly thereafter. Once both players have blossomed thus, the song begins to truly flourish, with much more dramatic tension and visceral motion. Around the seven-minute mark, Weinroth-Browne’s pummeling rhythm meets Jamshidi’s tremolo bowing in a way that, for a moment, functions as a reimagination of characteristic post-rock. The players seamlessly find themselves grooving in \(\frac{7}{8}\) later in the piece, where Weinroth-Browne transitions to a pizzicato rhythm to allow Jamshidi space to carry the main melody. Jamshidi’s quasi-Celtic line persists as Weinroth-Browne escalates his rhythm into his signature rapid percussive bowing, emulating a rhythm guitar’s effect, before the tune relaxes and culminates in a peaceful ending.

While “Emergent” offers variations on major key themes, “Tenebrous” immediately changes course with a more brooding and eerie framework. The players remain somewhat more separate, bouncing disconnected melodies back and forth in the beginning, showcasing an alternative yet still entrancing compositional approach. It is the beautiful simplicity of having only two musicians that enables them to play in either total harmony or complete distinction and still make perfectly coherent music in either paradigm. The fragmented melodies here incorporate more exotic Middle Eastern and Oriental scales and sounds. The duelling harmony at the six-minute mark is one of the finest examples of Kamancello’s synergy. Later in the track, the duo revisits their trick of a fast, rhythmic \(\frac{7}{8}\) section, connecting the first two songs thematically while displaying a totally different way to flesh out the same structural bones.

The title track—also the album’s shortest by almost five minutes—is a more concentrated and focused piece, evoking something of a sea shanty in its darkly whimsical, bouncy \(\frac{6}{8}\) melody lines. Dorian serves as the song’s home base, with the occasional drift into full-blown Aeolian and even a sprinkle of Phrygian’s flattened second around the five-minute mark. These keys provide an energetic, unresolving wistfulness—“Voyage”, after all, suggests journey but not destination—such that despite Weinroth-Browne’s plodding rhythmic pulsation on the root note, the song never feels like it has put down its anchor. The track sails onward into the dark and stormy horizon of “Threnody”, which stills the waters and languishes in a tranquil darkness; funeral doom on strings, in a sense, but more accurately reminiscent of a stripped-down version the majestic and heart-wrenching collaboration of Mono and World’s End Girlfriend on 2006’s Palmless Prayer / Mass Murder Refrain. Jamshidi’s dirgelike lilt over Weinroth-Browne’s sparse plucks around the five-minute mark are another highlight of the duo’s brilliance. After Weinroth-Browne assimilates the primary melody, Jamshidi takes a turn at implementing pizzicato, yet again demonstrating the impressive responsiveness these players have to each other. “Threnody” represents the clearest commitment yet to pure Aeolian, which gives the somber piece a deep gravity, particularly as Weinroth-Browne’s rhythm builds in aggression and force around the ten-minute mark. This wave breaks a couple of minutes later, ebbing into the more expansive inertia that the song’s introduction carried, and the album solemnly breathes its last beneath the kamanche’s crackling sparks and the cello’s gentle melody.

Improvisational music is a high-risk, high-reward strategy: the risk is that there are moments where the performance can feel directionless or the instrumentalists can clash in their ideas of where to proceed, but when everything clicks, the resulting organic harmony captures something that is extremely difficult to ever produce during deliberate composition. Kamancello’s nature as a duo greatly limits, if not quite eliminates, the risks of aimlessness and chaos, and instead facilitates many more moments of brilliant concordance between two artists who share a palpably special bond. Voyage, with its longer-form performances, joins Kamancello’s self-titled debut as an equal, a pair of utterly unique and satisfying works of modern art.

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