Violinist Maureen Choi is well on the way to finding her voice and even if it takes a few more years she will eventually get there. Already possessed of a strong technique and unafraid to let her emotions show Choi has a plan, which is to eschew la vida loca and answering the call of the music of South America; pursuing its every whisper and every shout through each nook and cranny, unearthing whatever she can find under the rock of tradition. But like every successful recipe, there’s a secret ingredient: in the case of Maureen Choi, it is – and one can only guess, because she isn’t ready to reveal all yet – probably a mistura fina of the Spanish tradition generously spiced with the heat and dust of the Afro-Caribbean tradition.
It is never easy for a classically-trained musician to make an album in any non-classical style. Finding the unity of theme and narrative contained in everything from a suite, sonata, concerto and symphony can be a challenge with five or seven or more shorter pieces even if he or she restricts the music to a single tradition. The same pitfalls may have awaited Ida y Vuelta. However much of the agonising for Maureen Choi and her quartet have been virtually nullified by making the idiomatic journey across South America. And the inevitable seduction of the more meditative and introspective aspects of the Bolero and the Valse, and the spritely rhythms of other forms of Afro-Caribbean music have been given voice in the ardent lines and expressive power of Choi’s violin.
Maureen Choi together with pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, bassist Mario Carrillo and drummer Michael Olivera have created a riveting repertoire on Ida y Vuelta. Choi keeps the expressive range within the autumnal parameters: melancholy, lightly fretful, inward and dignified. Whereas Garcia Diego – and especially Carrillo and Olivera – are more forceful and demonstrative, Choi plays (as she does on that iconic Ladino masterpiece “Alfonsina y El Mar”) more intimately, as if for herself alone. But there is nothing hermetic about her approach. Gently, insistently, quietly, she draws us all into the music of Ida y Vuelta and the results are thoroughly absorbing.
Rather than pair these relatively short works, most lasting only a few minutes, with each other and forcing a holistic theme über alles, Maureen Choi unifies them through the heat of Latin-American emotion. “Negra Presuntuosa” works well as a thorny but powerful piece, just as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” soars with pure, concentrated beauty and burns up in the atmosphere like final-stage propellant. And there is similar magnificence everywhere you look.
This lovely disc reveals the violin of Maureen Choi as a kind of private sketch pad, or journal, capturing big emotions on a small scale, with a poetic concentration in sharp contrast to the larger, more furious musical gestures of many, more famous violinists who shall remain nameless for now.
Track List: 1: Ida y Vuelta; 2: Vals o Vienes; 3: Valentía; 4: Bolero Del Alba; 5: Elizabeth; 6: Alfonsina y El Mar; 7: Negra Presuntuosa; 8: Dama De Noche; 9: Bilongo; 10: Capriccio Espagnol; 11: Gracias A La Vida.
Personnel: Maureen Choi: violin; Daniel Garcia Diego: piano; Mario Carrillo: double bass; Michael Olivera: drums; Pepe Rivero: piano (3, 8, 9); Javier Colina: double bass (6); Angel “Cepillo” Sanchez: hand claps, percussion (1, 5); David Montes: vocals (3, 7, 8, 9); Natalia Calderon: vocals (3, 7, 8, 9); Marina Lledo: vocals (3, 7, 8, 9).
Label: BarCo Records
Run time: 1:00:33