Vital Signs

Latest record from Mia Zabelka is Myasmo (SETOLA DI MAIALE SM4100), a “travelogue” record showcasing four of her live performances and improvisations from around Europe in 2018 and 2019.

This talented Austrian violinist made a strong first impression here with her M solo CD for Monotype Records which we noted in 2012, and since then there’s been a succession of strong collaborations and unusual projects, all of them good, but the “purist” sentiment which we sometimes indulge craves the solo material where a performer stands or falls on strength of a single there-and-then event. None of the electric violin on these four cuts which I think are mostly acoustic, but there are plenty instances where her voice comes into play, and an integrated musical statement appears right there in the room. On ‘London’, for instance, it’s that odd talk-in-tongues mode of non-lingual gibberish and guttural emissions, combined with passages of musical astringency that grow increasingly agitated and anxious, just the way we like it. On ‘Le Havre’ – every piece is named after location of performing venue – here’s a reminder of how “maximal” this player can be, at a time when every improviser and their brother is determined to follow the trend towards minimalism and reduced playing. These Havre sweeps are full of juice and melody, harmonics, and occasional biting tones – in fine, all the things that violin players ought to be doing in an ideal world. Zabelka fears not melody here. When strings need a break, once again the tongue-twitching mouth, now sighing and groaning, is brought into play.

‘Vienna’ might be the point to highlight Zabelka’s take on “extended technique”, except that she has her own unique slant on this contentious issue. Where many “extendo” improvisers end up disguising or changing the natural sound of their instrument, she delivers something more like an enhancement, an improvement. Certain lively segments are evidence of a very active right arm, perhaps even entire body; can’t help seeing an image of wiry frame twitching and convulsing as if electrified, but with a non-lethal dose of 115 volts. Further unusual “talkative” melodies and lines of enquiry on ‘Tonsberg’, incidentally captured by Lasse “I Am Everywhere” Marhaug at this Norway venue. ‘Tonsberg’ comes in at a lengthy 18:22 and one of its more outr√© features is the tribal uluating that bleats into view during the first 3-5 mins. Here also, note how the “maximal” mode is toned down somewhat when at one point she chooses to exhibit some extreme dynamics in the flow of the piece, yawning gaps of silence in between very odd plucks and scrapes. This one also contains some of her most frantic squealing and sputtering on the whole CD, verging on wild acoustic noise.

At a time when we often feel a bit short-changed by miserly or ungenerous musicians, who seem to think being overly-productive on the stage is bad form, Mia Zabelka is more the type who has a lot to say, and just keeps on giving. Released on the Italian avant-garde label Setola Di Maiale, this is a great set of performances. The cover art is derived from maps of the cities in question. From June 2020.

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