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CD Review

Rolf Lislevand

Nuove musiche

Rolf Lislevand, archlute, baroque guitar, theorboe
Arianna Savall, triple harp, voice
Pedro Estevan, percussion
Bjørn Kjellemyr, colascione, double-bass
Guido Morini, organ, clavichord
Marco Ambrosini, nyckelharpa (viola d'amore a chiavi)
Thor-Harald Johnsen, chitarra battente
ECM New Series 1922 DDD 52:17
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In his booklet note, Rolf Lislevand writes, "21st-century historical performance practice is hamstrung by a most inconvenient contradiction in its ambition to achieve authenticity in improvisation." In other words, modern musicians interested in playing music from the 1600s (for example), cannot do so without bringing music history since that time – and their own musical experiences – into the mix. Improvisation was part of how music was performed in the 17th century. To play that music today, it is impossible to be innocent of what happened yesterday, last month, last year, or in the last centuries. Lislevand's solution to that problem is not to ignore it but to live with it and enjoy it.

The name "nuove musiche" comes from the 17th century, when composers made a break with what was seen as the hyper-cerebral polyphony of the previous century. Composers associated with the so-called Camarata Fiorentina – men such as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger, Domenico Pellegrini, Alessandro Piccinini, and Girolamo Frescobaldi – aimed for a new simplicity and immediacy in their music. Lislevand has named the current CD Nuove musiche because he sees it as part of the natural development of historical performance practice. Also, the music truly is new, in the sense of never having been played before. The source material, composed by the aforementioned composers and others, instead of being performed as a fixed sequence of notes on a page, is treated dynamically, as an opportunity for group improvisation. As one might imagine, the concept of "authenticity" in such a context becomes paradoxical, but paradoxes are entertaining things.

All this would be academic if the result were cold, dull, or ugly, but Nuove musiche is a life-enhancingly beautiful CD, and it is informed by Lislevand's extensive experience as performer of early music; he's not a barbarian running rampant through the daisies. He and his colleagues respect the source material, and it is never used as grist for anyone's ego. The word "fusion" appropriately has been applied to this CD. Throughout the course of 52 minutes, allusions to flamenco, to Celtic music, and even to jazz and progressive rock (vaguely) come and go, but they are so well integrated and flow so naturally from the source materials that they never seem at all strange. These seven musicians respond to each other like the most accomplished veteran jazz septet, but more importantly, they are responding to the original music – not corrupting it, but re-composing it.

The CD was recorded in Oslo, and features some of ECM's most intimate and detailed sound. Even the way it is has been recorded suggests a fond departure from authenticity – technology has been used to sweeten and intertwine the contributions of each musician, from Lislevand's virtuosic fretwork to Savall's gorgeous and siren-like vocals. Not a fan of early music? This CD will charm you anyway. If you are a fan, then I suspect you will get far more pleasure than pain out of Lislevand's re-imaginings. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle