Espvall/Jakobsons/Szelag: Improvisations for Strings and Electronics
Arachnidiscs Recordings

Given that they're such kindred spirits, it seems only logical that a collaboration between kindred spirits cellist Helena Espvall (of Espers) and Myrmyr duo Agnes Szelag (cello) and Marielle Jakobsons (violin) would have occurred at some point, and now is as good a time as any. Don't let the Improvisations for Strings and Electronics give you the wrong impression, either. While the forty-four-minute recording is, on instrumentation grounds, strings and electronics only (all three credited with the latter), the five settings might more aptly be characterized as ‘spontaneous compositions,' given the level of cohesiveness and direction that emerges when the trio interact.

Recorded in Oakland, CA, the material encompasses a range of moods, from relatively agitated to ponderous. It's particularly affecting during its mournful nachtmusik passages, such as during the opener, “Black Frost,” where the strings etch serpentine pathways as they coil seductively around one another, and “Arctic Rains,” where the playing is at times so restrained it almost retreats altogether into silence. Being almost fourteen minutes in length, the latter naturally moves through a number of contrasting episodes, with the aforesaid quieter section followed by bluesy explorations and a lovely plaintive coda so lovely it verges on hymnal. Track titles have been well-chosen, too, given how much they complement the mood of a given piece. “Ice Age,” for example, offers a dense and brittle treatment that renders its sound-world rather daunting and disturbing, while the skeletal “Lunar Horizon” exudes an appropriately ethereal character.

This fine set of evocative explorations shows Swedish-born Espvall and Mills College graduates Szelag and Jakobsons (both received their MFAs from the esteemed institution in 2006) to be natural bedfellows. Mention also must be made of the lavish handmade presentation that the Ontario-based Arachnidiscs Recordings has given the limited-run release (100 copies), with the disc housed within a multi-layered package that includes a lino-block printed envelope and transparent outer-sleeve. The evident care with which the trio's work has been presented enhances the already strong impression imparted by their music-making.

March 2012