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Eyvind Kang - Virginal Co Ordinates

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Artist: Eyvind Kang

Album: Virginal Co Ordinates

Label: Ipecac

Review date: Jun. 14, 2004

Violinist and composer Eyvind Kang is a genuinely enigmatic figure, whose eldritch playing has distinguished recordings by a weird, wide array of musicians ranging from Sun City Girls to Joe McPhee, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, and Mr. Bungle. Quite a résumé. Though he is a highly inventive improviser, Kang has long devoted a good portion of his energy to meticulously constructed, multi-genre compositions (frequently grouped under the heading NADES).

This 73-minute composition (broken into multiple tracks, for convenient referencing) represents the natural extension of what Kang has explored on some of his earlier NADES releases on Tzadik. The piece was commissioned for a new music festival in Bologna, Italy, and features the 16-piece Italian ensemble Playground (strings, winds, percussion, and so forth) along with high profile guests vocalist Mike Patton, guitarist Tim Young, fellow violinist Michael White (an Arkestra alum), and sound processors Tucker Martine and Evan Schiller. So it’s evident that the musicians, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, have a lot of resources at their disposal. Good thing, too, since Kang puts them through their paces.

By turns somber and sunny, Kang writes his way through a bevy of genre references and idiomatic episodes, opening with a dark new music dirge, launching forward into Esquivel-like big band charts, and stopping for a long while in a thick, fulsome drone (heard on the rapturous title track). He even tries his hand, not entirely convincingly, at Bombay pop on the closing “Marriage of Days.” There are times when the restless compositional changeups get a bit irksome, and occasionally there seems to be far more emphasis on gesture or atmosphere than on substance and progression, but there are other moments which are quite moving (such as “I Am the Dead,” which has multi-tracked Patton on his best behavior).

Kang is not really demonstrative in his own playing – he prefers to work more structurally, cueing different sections of the piece or create rich textural backdrops. Indeed, nothing about this piece is geared towards improvisation; Kang seems more intent on trance and repetition than self-expression. For the most successful example of this approach, consult the 20-minute “Doorway to the Sun,” which alternates between an oscillating hum, a ritualistic vocal choir with quasi-Gamelan stylings, and a marimba-based piece which (perhaps inevitably) recalls Steve Reich. And in a similar way, the extended “Innocent Eye, Crystal See” will no doubt please Sigur Ros fans.

Overall, there’s not a whole lot of edge to this recording and not all of it is convincing. But there are certainly more good moments than bad, and Kang is always worth a listen.

By Jason Bivins

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