Gabriel Prokofiev + Peter Gregson: Cello Multitracks

It's apt that Gabriel Prokofiev's Cello Multitracks appears on his own Nonclassical label, given that the recording's material is both classical-oriented in certain obvious senses—it being cello-based music for one—yet is also non-classical, too, in the way that its focus is so much on musical aspects—rhythm and melody, specifically—common to most musical forms. For a classically trained composer, the London-based Prokofiev (born in 1975, Gabriel is the grandson of Sergei Prokofiev) brings an unusual background to the project. He was at one time a grime, electro, and hip-hop producer before returning to his classical roots in 2003, but he's also worked hard at finding fresh ways to bring his music to the masses: he's established a monthly Nonclassical club night, embraced the idea of remixes, and produced pieces that blend electronic and dance music influences and contemporary classical sounds, such as his Suite for Global Junk and Concerto For Turntables and Orchestra.

It's an unusual release in another respect, too: the four original tracks could have been packaged as a stand-alone EP; paired with the twelve remixes (three of them digital only), Cello Multitracks becomes a seventy-minute full-length. That cellist Peter Gregson receives star billing is wholly apropos as his rendering of Prokofiev's material is critical to its impact. Not only is Gregson adept at meeting the technical demands of performing as a nine-cello section (a feat realized using laptop-based multi-track technology), he tears into the material with passion and uses a full arsenal of techniques—scrapes, plucks, knocks, and bowings among them—to do so, whether it be during the sinuous meditation “Outta Pulsor,” with its hypnotic see-sawing figures and woozy flourishes, or the aggressive “Jerk Driver,” which Prokofiev powers with funky dance rhythms. True to its title, “Float Dance” boasts a dreamlike quality without compromising on its rhythm character, while the fourth original, “Tuff Strum,” exploits pizzicato playing in the service of its syncopations.

The tracks' melodic and especially rhythmic qualities provide excellent starting points for the remixers, who hew closely to the original in some cases and depart liberally from it in others by adding beats, synths, and electronics (sometimes of the industrial noise kind) to the arrangements. Elaborating on Prokofiev's original, Waves on Canvas's remix adds subtle electronic touches to “Tuff Strum” and in doing so accentuates its funky side even more. DJ Spooky's “Jerk Driver” makeover proves ear-catching in juxtaposing goblin-esque flourishes and an insistent breakbeat groove that oozes a bit of dubstep flavour. Home Loner turns “Float Dance” into a breathlessly uptempo house raver—at least as much of a house raver as a cello-based piece of music can be. By comparison, Tim Exile configures his punchy version as more of a loping synth-funk workout. In “Detroit Spin,” Heavy Deviance takes the material for a minimal techno ride, Medaysn chills the pace for a slow-motion “Defoncé dans le 20eme” treatment, and, on the digital front, Tivannagh L'Abbé contributes a hard-grooving shimmy (“Hotfoot”) to the project. Prokofiev even gets into the act by contributing a remix of his own: “The Slap Cellos of Douala,” which underscores Gregson's playing with intricate stuttering rhythms.

One final note: anyone coming to the recording thinking that it's a collection of solo cello pieces wouldn't be entirely wrong but also would be slightly off-base. Cello forms the starting point, but the use of multi-tracking in the originals and the contributions from the remixers turns Cello Multitracks into something far more elaborate and wide-ranging than the standard single instrument recording.

September 2012