At the beginning of this year, I ran an article about violinist Tracy Silverman’s touring plans. As a violinist Silverman is a former member of the Turtle Island String Quartet, a sure indicator of a comfort zone that accommodates both jazz improvisation and chamber music. More recently, however, he has been putting a unique spin on that more general concept of “violinist,” since his instrument is now a six-string electric violin which, in my previous article, I described as “the hybrid product of an acoustic violin and an electric guitar.”
Silverman organized his touring plans around the release of his latest album featuring his work on this instrument. That album was released on Delos this past Tuesday (February 25). Its title is between the kiss and the chaos, which is the title of one of the two compositions performed. The title of the other piece is “Axis and Orbits.”
“Between the Kiss and the Chaos” was scored for his violin and string quartet. Thus, the work is very much a “document of transition,” offering up a rhetoric that reflects his past experience with Turtle Island while also allowing him to explore the expressiveness of his new instruments On this recording he is accompanied by the members of the Calder Quartet, violinists Benjamin Jacobson and Andrew Bulbrook, violist Jonathan Moerschel, and cellist Eric Byers, who is also required to play kick drum.
The composition itself is a reflection on five works of art. The first of these is Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture. The remaining four are paintings: “La Danse” by Henri Matisse, “The Red Poppy” by Georgia O’Keeffe, “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gough, and “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. Each of these is a highly expressive piece, exploring active interplay between the soloist and his accompanying ensemble. On the other hand the music is also unabashedly personal, to the point where the listener may do just as well to ignore any references to the art works, treating them for as triggers rather than as inspiration. Nevertheless, this music makes for an interesting departure from Turtle Island style, interesting enough to make one wonder where Silverman will go next with it.
“Axis and Orbits,” on the other hand, is a solo piece in which the soloist works with pedal-controlled sampling and playback. Silverman’s notes for the booklet describe the score as “semi-improvised,” recalling earlier efforts by Terry Riley to use the sounds of his own playing to create an environment in which he would then improvise. Each movement of the composition’s four movements has its own descriptive title:
- Axis and Orbits
- Sacred Geometry
- Mojo Perpetuo
Each of these provides a “visual orientation” within which one can appreciate both the improvisations and the setting in which they take place. The last of those titles may also offer a reflection on the fact that Silverman has transplanted himself from New York to Nashville. If this means that he will be leading the way to a new “Nashville school” of chamber music, then chamber music may be in for another paradigm shift (not to mention a manifesto position that Vienna can’t have all the fun).