Poetry and Technique on Exquisite Display in Mariel Roberts' 'Cartography' by Doyle Armbrust

Mariel Roberts - Cartography.jpg

When conservatories and music departments finally awake from their (irresponsible) slumber to the reality that they should be teaching new music in earnest, they would do well to ink Mariel Roberts at or near the top of their list of cello professor candidates.

Ms. Roberts first head-butted her way into my consciousness in 2012 with the exceptional Nonextraneous Sounds record, and as with her debut release, I fully anticipate that 2017’s Cartography will remain in my annual Top 10 across the next seven months. The technique is superlative here, but this album is also a feat of inspired and divergent programming, and the technique tends to evaporate behind the poetry of the performances.

Imagine that Walter White’s most habitual customer gets his hands on a stack of Nancarrow and Reich LPs and spends a three-day bender composing a feverish homage. You’re starting to get the picture of Eric Wubbels’ Gretchen Am Spinnrade. Like the Schubert from which it takes its title, the piece is a frenzy of cyclic motives — it’s just that in this case the sonic mania involves microtonal tuning and fingernail pizzicati at eighth-note=132 bpm. String players, and listeners in general, may feel their shoulders anxiously pulling toward their ears as Roberts scales these inhumane licks, but subsequent passes through the track reveal opulent harmonies and a perverse, ultimately savory groove, not to mention Wubbles’s piano playing making an unassailable case for tossing out the term “accompanist,” forever. This is not music one writes hoping for the best. It is written with a specific talent in mind.

The utter loneliness captured in Cenk Ergün’s Aman sits in stark contrast at track 2. Parameters involving percussive elements and harmonic pressure create a dry landscape which Ergün then compellingly processes live with an organic quality that heightens, but never overshadows the cello. It plays as music for our current socio-political predicament, to this reviewer at least, when hope retreats, and its abrupt end offers no tidy conclusions.

If Aman lives in a certain, darker corner of the mind, George Lewis’s Spinnerbounces capriciously around the rest of the cranial cavity. The piece lives the longest in what might be considered the traditional tuning and techniques of the cello, a superball-on-the-varnish rhythmic breakdown notwithstanding, and Roberts’ rich tone and fingerboard-leaping abilities are on full display. Lewis’ recent scores find that elusive seam between the organization of the extemporaneous and the organization of the premeditated, and Roberts infuses both the instinctual and the intellectual angles of this music with equal surety.

Davíð Brynjar Franzson’s The Cartography of Time closes out the proceedings, dipping in and out of white noise, sculpting long tones that seem to make it all the way to the horizon. Delicious bass expands outward and eventually glitches into silence as harmonics glisten and compete and fold back in on themselves. The fourth of four distinct entries, The Cartography of Time aptly deposits the listener many, many miles from where he began at the top of this exquisite album.

- Doyle Armbrust

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Pluck the key-shaped USB drive out of the digipak, set the car stereo to “shuffle,” and shift into drive for the answer.

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Cellist Michael Nicolas's Debut 'Transitions' Slides, Pummels and Seduces by Doyle Armbrust

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Clint Mansell's Gritty Score to 'Requiem for a Dream' Issued on Vinyl by Doyle Armbrust

As someone who imbibes a perhaps absurd number of filmic hours, I have a habit of bleeding together details of moving pictures in my brain. This is the not the case for Darren Aronofsky’s Y2K masterpiece Requiem for a Dream, due in large part to the iconic score by Clint Mansell. In celebration of Record Store Day 2016, Nonesuch has released this indelible soundtrack on deliciously chunky 180g vinyl, housed in a heavyweight cardboard gatefold sleeve, inviting fans to sink into this ravishing and irrevocable terrarium once again.

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Imagine for a moment that you’ve stumbled upon an abandoned estate. Entering, you discover that this place was left in haste, its objects largely left untouched, save for a thin blanket of dust. Like, say, Myst (sidebar: Myst is a PC game mommies and daddies used to play). This is a little what it is like to explore Qasim Naqvi’s latest release, "Preamble" – no ticking time clock, each corner is a reveal, and patience is rewarded with sorcerous encounters.

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Never underestimate the power of a well-situated, cyclical arpeggio – especially in the hands of skilled, vigilant musicians. Much of English composer Jane Antonia Cornish’s portrait album, "Continuum," is built on this most fundamental element of classical music, and as anyone who has attended a concert in which a program swap offered an under-rehearsed, minimalist number can attest, this brand of music is not easily executed.

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Matt Haimovitz Channels Vast Dynamic Range in 4-Hour Retrospective, 'Orbit' by Doyle Armbrust

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