Review Summary: An artistic tour de force for both its creators, Kamancello's often stunning beauty belies its improvised nature.
There is something inherently difficult about critiquing Kamancello
from a musical standpoint. It is an album created, and forever existing, in a moment – a product of human connection under circumstances that can never be precisely recreated. Between the cello of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the kamanche of Shahriyar Jamshidi, this relationship is explored over the course of forty-seven minutes consisting entirely of improvisation. Kamancello
offers a chance for the super-duo (Jamshidi having performed worldwide since 1990, while Weinroth-Browne has more recently risen to prominence) to showcase not only their individual skills, but more importantly, their personality as a combined musical entity. The resulting six tracks ride each musician’s strengths, expose his comforts and apprehensions, and serve to remind the listener why music is the ultimate language of the soul. In a setting both intimate and exposing, Kamancello
sees a master artist and a rising star challenge each other to create something out of thin air with breathtaking results.
The movements on Kamancello
are titled according to a single word that describes each piece. “Incantation” starts off subtly as Weinroth-Browne explores an ominous minor-key motif in the cello’s lowest register. Jamshidi enters two octaves above with a simple refrain, and in repeating it, passes the baton back to his partner. The cello rises and flutters through a delicate recapitulation of the new part, and builds upon it by expanding the dynamic range and introducing a rapid glissando. In this early stage, each musician seems to be searching the other for clues, though Jamshidi soon seizes the initiative and fashions a striking melody near the three-minute mark. The hallmarks of his style begin to emerge by the song’s midpoint: mellifluious leading melodies that gain energy as they evolve, broken into short bursts to adapt quickly to change. The kamache’s nasal tone separates easily from the smoother sound of the cello, allowing them to cross notes without blending. By the time Jamshidi has a chance to repeat his new melody, Raphael has composed not only a counterpart to it, but a double-stop chord progression that elevates the entire piece’s energy. And yet, as he emerges into a fleet arpeggio, his challenge is met with a revived form of Jamshidi’s original motif, driving the song to its climax.
The concepts alluded to in the song titles are often reflected in the compositions, though there are credible cases for either having come first. In “Serpentine,” the second cut of the album, Weinroth-Browne introduces percussive effects that give the song a unique flavor. Shortly before the midway point, the two instruments break into a call-and-response section built on major-second intervals, a trait often found in Indian music; the resulting “snake charmer” motif is almost certainly the inspiration for the song’s title. This change, like many throughout the album, seems to come organically: one musician introduces an idea and the other builds upon it, giving many of the pieces a theme-and-variation structure. In “Ascent,” the album’s closing song, these shifts seem to happen without prior notice, as if one musician is almost subliminaly cuing the other, and the song moves forward in a train-of-thought manner. While this programmatic song structure forms the basis of most of the album, “Radiance,” the album’s most ebullient track, returns a number of times to established motifs as it winds its way to an uplifting conclusion.
For an album that was written as it happened, the amount of memorable material and riffs throughout Kamancello
is striking – the nine-note kamanche lead in “Radiance” comes to mind most prominently in this category. Not every piece is anthemic, of course, nor should it be in a free-flowing collection of music. The dueling melodies of “Confrontation” live up to the song’s title as Weinroth-Browne and Jamshidi spend most of the song’s six minutes challenging each other with increasingly daring melodies, lying in wait for a chance to usurp the other rather than working together as on “Incantation” or album closer “Ascent.” This range of improvisational styles speaks to the camaraderie between the two musicians as well as their virtuosity. While the cello and kamanche are perfectly capable of carrying the proceedings on their own, the album’s most sublime moments occur when disparate parts join together in surprising harmony.
Several videos of the album’s recordings, beautifully filmed at Union Sound Company in Toronto, attest to the authenticity of Kamancello
, as well as bringing a new level of intrigue. Seeing the musicians trade visual cues illuminates how certain moments came together: Weinroth-Browne’s lowered head is a sure sign of imminent fireworks, while Jamshidi’s unwavering gaze reminds one of a superior athlete’s meditative state. Despite the determined appearance of both musicians, the album’s overall impact is joyful and without fear. In fact, as “Ascent” fades to black, Kamancello
reveals an impact difficult to find in modern music: even after traversing so much musical and emotional terrain, I left this album feeling thoroughly refreshed. If that’s not a sign that Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Shahriyar Jamshidi have created something truly worthwhile, then I’m not sure what is.