“The musicians soar and daydream…it’s music that for its large part smiles in beatitude, where technical bravura is still at the service of innocence.”
–Massimo Ricci, touchingextremes.wordpress.com (on “Space Yard”)
“Azul” is an aural meditation by electric violinist David Strother that covers a wide swathe of emotions and delves fearlessly into the human condition. The word azul means “blue” in Spanish, and indeed the songs explore many shades of this emotional color. The blues also refer to loss: during the editing and mixing phases of the EP, Strother learned about the death of bassist and composer Charlie Haden, a musician who influenced him deeply, so the EP also serves as an homage to Haden and his profound musical contributions.
Azul consists of seven songs, all electric violin solos with floating ambient sounds, each one an exquisite miniature that paints an elegant emotional portrait. “Un Cafecito con Mi Amor” (“A Cuban Espresso with My Love”) resonates with a tender beauty, giving a sense of a bittersweet meeting, perhaps a discussion of a final parting. Strother plays with a refined delicacy that’s genuinely piercing, his violin shimmering through sensitive byways. “The End of Hope” is another thoughtful soundscape, a quiet journey into the dark places. It’s as if Strother is depicting the sound of emotion, the way it quivers as it travels through the synapses. “One Sad Bus Ride” indeed gives the sense of being on a bus, perhaps surrounded by people but feeling alone, or maybe having a hushed conversation that would have been better conducted in private. The titles in these evocative pieces offer clues, and yet at the same time the songs are wonderfully open and available to whatever is brought to them.
“Elegy for Newtown” is a heartfelt meditation on an unthinkable tragedy, as well as a depiction of how music can help us process both the large and small tragedies of life. “2296” is a gorgeous piece with stark notes and looming electronic backgrounds, full of atmospheric sizzling and subliminal undercurrents. Again the title is evocative, perhaps referring to a date in time that holds special meaning, or some personal mystery yet to be uncovered. “Luminoso” is a Spanish word for “bright,” and indeed the violin is brighter here, sweeping majestically as it rises through a background of thrumming ambience. The EP’s final track, “The Blessing They Have Yet to Honor,” is a luminous piece, with the delicacy of the violin offset by otherworldly electricity.
Strother has carved out a very special field for himself, a depiction of nuanced sensations too often overlooked in our noisy world. Through the vehicle and vision of his violin, he creates sonic haiku that allow us to experience the finer emotional colorings that, although sometimes challenging, infuse life with richness.
— Florence Wetzel, Allaboutjazz.com
“Muse” is a poetic suite on loss and resilience by violinist and sound sculptor David Strother. His previous release, “Soundings.live,” was a lovely integration of improvised violin and Los Angeles street noise, but on “Muse” he delves into the personal to tell a story through sound. Given Strother’s extensive experience with spoken word, it’s not surprising that his new recording has a narrative quality: he has collaborated often with noted performance artist Ulysses Jenkins, and he also co-hosts a poetry salon with writer Ricardo Acuna in Glendale, California, accompanying poets with on-the-spot improvisations.
The catalyst for Muse was the death of Strother’s mother, a profound loss that was compounded by other unexpected life events. In order to cope with his grief, Strother did what he does best: make music. The seven-part suite starts with “Mi Media Naranja,” a raw, primal tune full of echoes and hesitations. Pure emotion quivers through the strings, plaintive and direct, the fragile sounds hovering in space. Then “Love You Forever” delves deep into the ache, revealing the strange beauty of sadness, the kernel of majesty that exists within the greatest sorrow. The flights of the violin echo the flights of the heart, the way feelings plunge and swoop and plunge again. The piece also reflects Strother’s creative looping and his ability to create subtle, gossamer effects.
“Violation (The Demon Inside)” is a haunting song, quivering and unsparing. A quiet, steady plucking underlies the tune, providing an undertone that throbs beneath the crash and burn of the strings. “This Phlight Tonight” is full of shivering, shredding palpitations, the violin looping in on itself to create its own backdrop. “Love Bomber” has an echoing urgency that ascends the upper reaches, the distant realms and shuddering high notes that strings access so magnificently, and “Last Night of the Earth Poem” is a short, lovely piece, a brief burst of sorrow that finds the hidden places only poetry can reach.
The album ends with “Healing,” a longer tune that integrates the emotions and lessons of the journey. The song proceeds cautiously, the violin trembling with hope as it carefully tests out the new ground. A fine, subtle joy emerges as the piece progresses, a beautiful depiction of the fresh world that appears after one has survived a crisis. The music eventually drifts into a quiet, contented silence, unfolding itself into a wise quietude.
Surely one of the great mysteries of the human heart is its enormous resiliency, and the way that loss can lead to a soulful flowering. It’s an enigmatic process that’s not easy to capture, but by virtue of Strother’s unerring sensitivity, he has created a spare, beautiful work of great depth.
– Florence Wetzel, Allaboutjazz.com
The Japanese term mono no aware means “the pity of things,” a reference to the gentle sadness that results from acknowledging the impermanence and transience of life on earth. David Strother’s beautiful EP, “Soundings.live,” evokes this quality throughout. Strother has created six aural haiku using the unique combination of a five-string electric violin and sounds from the streets of Los Angeles.
Strother displays admirable restraint throughout the EP, tastefully merging his violin with a variety of street noises. He captures the rushing sound of a car passing by, but often drops it into the background so it seems like a distant ocean. Occasionally human voices emerge, but they are gone as quickly as they came, disappearing into the silence from which they emerged. In fact, this whole EP has a wonderful quality of something half-glimpsed; there’s an appealing spaciousness to the music, an elusive texture that’s open-ended and haunting. On each track, Strother plays with the greatest sensitivity and gentleness, producing a variety of sounds including melodic lines, plaintive inquiries, or far-away screeches that sound like yearning.
The beauty of these sorts of projects is that they bring to the fore interesting questions such as: What is music? What is sound? All music is sound, but is all sound music? Innovators such as John Cage opened the door to these queries decades ago, but each generation needs to find its own answers. Strother’s response has yielded exquisite music with a lovely purity and a lingering, liminal quality. Like everything else, music comes and then it goes; but during the moment that sound abides, it creates a spark of life that’s all the more precious for its transience.
– Florence Wetzel, Allaboutjazz.com
L.A. violinist Strother took his folkhearted melodic conceptions to non-concert locations and jammed with the people, the vehicles and the ozone. And he came up with some very lovely, very touching interactions that’ll make you see your next trip to the pet store differently.
–Greg Burk, metaljazz.com (on “Soundings.live“)
Spot-on soulful violin..
– Barry Kerzner, americanbluesscene.com
Violinist David Strother is the fiddle player on “Lawrence Lebo’s Don’t Call Her Larry, Volume 3, American Roots.” On that recording, Strother has a homey feel, very much in keeping with the stripped-down ambiance Lebo was trying to achieve on her recording. On his own 2007 recording, “The Desert is Singing,” Strother further strips things down to just himself and his Yamaha SV-110 electric fiddle. Among his original compositions are a couple of standards, one of which is Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk.”
Strother presents the expected head that dissolves off into ravenous particles, something akin to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opium dream before composing the classic 1797 poem, “Kubla Khan.” Things are steady and fine enough, but Strother’s dissolution is delicious, departing so far from the blues that John Coltrane could probably see him coming. Flights of whimsy and demonic psychic breaks characterize this far-reaching playing.
–C. Michael Bailey, Allaboutjazz.com