Robin Holcomb – JOHN BROWN’S BODY


After several intriguing and somewhat unsung albums on which Robin Holcomb revealed her skills as the author of refined songs characterized by her tremulous, meagre yet inimitable voice and by heartfelt homages to her influences, John Brown’s Body is a precious collection of piano-based compositions, occasionally with telling contributions from Eyvind Kang (viola), Dave Carter (trumpet), Steve Moore (trombone and glockenspiel), and, on the disc’s best track, the Koehne String Quartet. It’s Holcomb’s most rounded album to date, with music illuminated by the kind of compositional brilliance associated with artists at the height of their powers. The disc’s highpoint is “One”, a splendid example of contemporary chamber writing that postulates a four-dimensional contrapuntal spell for those of you fed up with the easy-to-peep-into décolletés of famous string quartets transformed into parodies of themselves (if you’re thinking Kronos, you guessed right). As one becomes acquainted with the music – it requires concentration and clear-mindedness, because it’s deceptively alluring stuff – every single note constitutes a small step along the way to a long-awaited communion between Monk and Satie, not without reference to traditional American music, which Holcomb refreshes with harmonic substitution, beat subtraction and subtle, continuous modal shifts. The “famous” title track is just that, a sublimely (in)formal rearrangement and oblique vocal rendition Mr. Brown would surely approve of. This gorgeous album ends with two attracting opposites, short fragments of Holcomb’s literate sensitivity: “Maybe You One Day” is a complicated equation (solved in less than one and a half minute) containing impossible-to-sing melodic configurations amidst spotless modulating equilibrium, while “Pretty Ozu”, part of a soundtrack written to accompany Yasujiro Ozu’s That Night’s Wife, is a relieving, sweetly melancholic half-theme closing the door of this exquisite gallery with a gentle touch of pure class.


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