Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Elektra Kurtis, Ensemble Elektra, Cutting Through, Featuring Bob Stewart

Violinist-composer-bandleader Elektra Kurtis kindly sent me several of her recordings and I am in the process of enjoying them. First up is an Ensemble Elektra album that came out in 2010, called Cutting Through (Milo MR119). The unusual instrumentation, the musical personalities involved, and what Elektra does with it all makes for something unique.

The ensemble features tuba wizard Bob Stewart; then there is Stuart Popjoy, who you may also know from Iron Dog and Bassoon, on bass and synth. Elektra and Curtis Stewart make up the string section on dual violins. Lefteris Bournias plays clarinet with that uncanny tone of some of the players who come out of Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe, a sort of clarinet equivalent to the zourna, musette, wooden flute, etc., that you might hear with a rich tone like this if you sample World Music at all. Don Babatunde Eaton plays percussion, world Afro-Eurasian percussion I guess you could say, and he's good. On the drums is Kahlil Kwame Bell, who has a hip flexibility and can swing, rock or otherwise help set up the varied grooves in the music.

Elektra has incredible technique and a singing tone. She's obviously had plenty of training but she sets it loose for this music that you might call World Music Fusion--with some very Greek and Eurasian traces underneath it all which are very cool. Curtis is an excellent violinist as well. They impress with ensemble strength, loosely rubato moments and some hot improvising. Bob, Stewart and Lefteris make for a very solid ensemble as well but then can solo in ways that keep you interested. And the percussion team keeps on smoking it throughout.

There is no mistaking this ensemble for another. It has groove but then it gets such a collective sound in the compositions that you become immersed very quickly in it all. And the invention in the compositions stands out strongly. There's freedom, too, in parts.

This is a total music experience! Elektra is a marvelous player, a brightly shining music-smith and a very wise chooser of ensemble players. I am smiling!!

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