This is an awesome undertaking. I recall when pop musicians were cautioned that it may be unwise to release a so called “double album” for fear that their inspiration (or talent) may not be up to the task. Well here comes Josh Modney violinist and Executive Director of the Wet Ink Ensemble , a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and a performer with the Mivos Quartet for eight years. This 3 CD set is his solo violin debut album. And what an album it is. There is no lack of talent, skill, or imagination here. This is essentially three faces of Josh Modney a sort of sonic CV.
The first disc features four tracks of music by contemporary composers for violin with soprano, piano, and/or electronics. All four are fairly recent compositions: Sam Pluta’s “Jem Altieri with a Ring Modulator Circuit (2011), Taylor Brook’s “Vocalise” (2009), Kate Soper’s “Cipher” (2011), and Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 22” (1998).All of these are challenging for the musicians and none are easy listening but all demonstrate aspects of Modney’s skills as a musician
The second disc features J. S. Bach’s “Ciacona” or “Chaconne” (1720) from the second violin partita. But this is not just another performance of this towering masterwork of the solo violin repertoire. Modney has chosen to perform it in just intonation. Now how’s that for versatile?
The effect is subtle and may even be lost on some listeners but fanciers of Bach and alternate tunings will likely find this to be anywhere from mildly interesting to revelatory. It is a fine performance and it is interesting to hear it in just intonation and amazing to know that this performer has this uncommon skill of playing accurately in an alternate tuning on the violin.
Filling out the second disc is a piece by pianist Eric Wubbels, “the children of fire come looking for fire” (2012). This is a very different piece and I’m not sure why it was paired with the Bach except that it fit the available space. Wubbels contribution is a sort of electroacoustic collage.
The third (and last) disc is of solo violin compositions by Josh Modney. Again we move into contemporary and experimental compositions which reflect Modney’s skill with the instrument as well as his insights into it’s potentials. Again there are no echoes of Bach here but rather more of the experimental/avant garde/free jazz style which dominates this album. The solo violin repertoire is not huge so it is reasonable to assume that these little gems will find a place there.
This is a lovely production with striking cover art and excellent sound. If you like cutting edge violin music you will have a wonderful time with these discs. And if you’re looking for a wildly skilled and imaginative musician check this set out and get ready to be wowed.