The Alehouse Sessions

Barokksolistene, Bjarte Eike
Rubicon RCD1017

Before I review this CD I have to declare an interest – some of you will have read my ecstatic EMR review from the St Magnus Festival in June of a series of appearances by the Barokksolistene (still available on the EMR website) in which I tried to capture the mixture of amazement and pleasure that I experienced at their live shows. Although it is impossible, I shall have to try to set my experience as an audience member to one side as I review this CD of one of the actual programmes I attended back in June. So how does this recording hold up as a heard experience without all the intriguing stage business, the charismatic presence of Bjarte Eike and the witty and profound theatrical dimension? Is it, as sometimes happens, a case of ‘you had to be there’? Well no. The superb technical prowess of these remarkable musicians, their uncanny sense of ensemble, their unparalleled familiarity with the material all shine through I think in this CD. Some of the eccentricities of presentation which at the live performance we rather took on trust, sound a little more outrageous on CD – Thomas Guthrie’s idiosyncratic vocal style perhaps needs his beguiling physical presence to be entirely convincing, while I was much more aware of the heavy level of arrangement of the source material which had clearly gone on. In some of the music, this involves updating the harmonies in an unsettlingly modern cabaret style, while the edges of the instrumental authenticity are a little blurred by the use of a mixture of Baroque and essentially modern instruments. Some of the musicians unashamedly bring their jazz roots with them onstage, but for me the type of music they are performing lends itself brilliantly to that sort of spontaneous improvisatory approach. At its best, this CD is wonderfully energetic and idiomatic, and even at its most eccentric it is never remotely unmusical or dishonest to its source material. Perhaps most impressive is the way in which the CD, like the show, captures the ambience of a bunch of young men ‘on the lash’ using musical performance to show off to one another, to challenge one another and ultimately to impress us with their innate musicality and technical assurance. Maybe it is after all impossible for me to divorce listening to this CD from the experience of the live Barokksolistene, and maybe the CD will mainly sell as an after-concert souvenir, but actually I would recommend that you buy the CD and then seriously try to catch the group live. You won’t regret either!

D. James Ross

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