A liner note for “Kamancello” state that all of the music is “fully improvised and unedited.” Without this crucial piece of information, the full extent of this duo’s achievement might not be fully appreciated.
Shahriyar Jamshidi (kamanche) and Raphael Weinroth-Browne (cello) — who call their duo as well as their album “Kamancello” — masterfully address some of the greatest challenges that improvising musicians face, including making outstanding, spontaneous music sound as if it was carefully composed and rehearsed in advance. For example, the temptation to play too much is very strong in musicians who are learning to improvise, and even the most seasoned musicians sometimes get so focused on the sound of their own musical voice that what should be collaboration ends up sounding like combat. There is none of that in “Kamancello.” The two artists, besides being virtuoso players, have a shared sense of form and structure — a sense of having a composition emerge organically from the interaction of sound and silence — that is clearly present in each of the six pieces. The players are obviously familiar with each other’s style and musical voice. And they also have a mutual connection to Middle Eastern music. This is hardly surprising in Mr. Jamshidi’s case, as he has Middle Eastern roots Aculturally and musically. Mr. Weinroth-Browne, on the other hand, demonstrates an affinity for Middle Eastern musical sensibilities that is all the more impressive because that affinity also includes a deep respect for pulse and Middle Eastern rhythms — this was a welcome surprise, since many in the free improvisation community (some would say too many) have complete disdain for rhythm and pulse. (See combat analogy above.) Cross-cultural collaborations are most successful when players generously bring their own cultural perspectives to the work, rather than merely attempting to graft or overlay some exoticism onto a familiar, self-referential concept. But it would be something of an understatement to call this collaboration “successful,” because it is, simply put, brilliant. Even though “Kamancello” faces eastward, the net result is a rich blend of musical sensibilities from Western and Persian classical traditions, free improvisation, folk music traditions from around the globe, and more. With this many cultural resources (and this much talent) to draw upon, it’s reasonable to expect a live performance by this duo to be every bit as powerful and captivating as this “Kamancello” recording, but with all new compositions, created right before your eyes (and ears).