Julia Kent: Green and Grey
Important Records

Over the past year or so, a number of exceptional cello-based recordings have come across textura's desk—ones by Jody Redhage, The OO-Ray, Marvin Ayres, Myrmyr member Agnes Szelag, and so on—but it would be hard to imagine one more fully realized than Julia Kent's Green and Grey. I was first introduced to the Canadian-born, New York City-based cellist's playing through her involvement in the just-released Parallel 41 DVD-CD project and then backtracked to familiarize myself with the solo recordings Kent issued prior to that self-titled collaboration with Barbara De Dominicis. Though Green and Grey was issued in mid-2011, it's an electronic-classical recording very much worth tracking down for those—me included—who missed it upon its initial release. It's not her first recording either, as her full-length debut Delay and follow-up EP Last Day in July preceded it, but it is the one that offers the most up-to-date portrait of her solo artistry.

One of the recording's most special features is how splendidly it showcases the gorgeous tone of Kent's cello sound. She uses electronics to generate loops of base patterns overtop of which her ravishing and often multi-layered (instrumental) voice sings, and weaves field recordings judiciously into the mix to amplify the music's already full-bodied sound. In stark contrast to the conceptual underpinning of Delay, whose tracks draw upon field recordings captured in airports around the world, Grey and Green locates the point where the natural and industrial worlds meet.

The night-time sounds of stridulating cicadas opens “Pleiades” (named after a star cluster) before the scene quickly shifts to Kent's playing, a dazzling blend of plucked triplets, high-pitched cries, ostinato patterns, and impassioned bowing that collectively creates a beautifully melancholic, even mournful mood. “Ailanthus” (a genus of trees) exudes cinematic mystery in its melding of footsteps and swaying orchestral textures, while “Guarding the Invitations” and “Overlook” (a reference perhaps to the Hotel Overlook in The Shining?) bewitch the listener with their luscious string clusters and lilting rhythms. At album's end, the presumed Cy Twombly homage “Dear Mr. Twombly” and “Wake Low” leave strong impressions, too. Another of the recording's strengths is that all of its eleven mini-symphonies make their case with concision, with all falling within the three- to five-minute range.

As the recording continues, one comes to appreciate the full extent of Kent's technique, which is never used gratuitously but drawn upon in service of the music's intended ends. Whether striking the strings with her bow or coaxing rich, multi-layered melodies from the cello, she remains masterfully in control at shaping her material in the moment of its creation. Consequently, the music comes to seem more like live improvisations than something overly determined, even if extensive pre-planning was involved in mapping out the tracks' individual trajectories.

October 2012