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Joan Jeanrenaud - Strange Toys

Strange Toys

Joan Jeanrenaud

Talking House THR0806-014A

Available from iTunes.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker
(progdawg@hotmail.com).

If the name looks a bit familiar, it should. Ms. Jeanrenaud was cellist in the famed Kronos Quartet, the lovely pixie-esque "chick" of the overachieving ensemble. KQ was and is one of the highest watermarks in modern classicalism, neoclassicalism, and the avant-garde...in case ya didn't know. The list of names she's worked with, who were hugely admirative of her skill, include John Cage, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Frank Zappa. Why, then, isn't she appearing under the imprimatur of the Nonesuch, New World, or ECM labels? It's baffling, as the material in Strange Toys is every inch worthy of it. On the other hand, those music houses, especially ECM, tend to be stuffed to the gills with broody hens and pelicans (yeah, I know it's a mixed metaphor; sue me), so who knows how their decisions are made?

Manfred Eicher (ECM honcho) has in fact published some of the most spectacular and engrossing music of the 20th century and is usually comfortable with this type of stuff, but I guess the beauty of this release isn't for every Tom, Dick, and Tina. Doubly baffling, then, as not a second of this doesn't stand with the entrancing work of master stringraspers of every stripe: Paul Giger, John Clark, David Darling (his early materials, not the later schmaltz), Eberhard Weber, Gidon Kremer, and etc.…all of whom have appeared in various contexts on ECM. That Ms. Jeanrenaud waited all these years, she's 52, to finally write her own material is the only sin: nearly every cut is a jewel and singular, though I can do without the lifeless reading of John Donne in Air & Angels (too contra-indicative of the rest of the release and a bit too resonant with Harold Budd's similarly failed attempts). They also compose some of the most perfect chamber pieces of recent decades.

Unlike a bit too much of the oft forbidding high art of our times, Toys is exceedingly warm, even when sad, as in Tug of War, reading very like an Eleni Karaindrou piece. The entire CD is as spacious as it is engaging, uncluttered but focused like a laser, either Jeanrenaud in a multitracked situation or in duet, trio, or quartet. Every note's perfectly delivered, and the listener soon understands there's far more complexity than at first was apparent. The cellist's technique is flawless, perfectly pitched, exhilirating, even matchless. In her playing, one begins to see why classicalists get so hung up on such things, an entirely different dimension extending well beyond what most rockers and jazzbos even know exists.

Trust me, Strange Toys* is the best music ECM or Nonesuch never released. Talking House is a small publishing venture, having only a few releases to its credit, but this disc displays the wisdom of their selection process, not to mention the breathtaking engineering lavished (mastering by Bernie Grundman, a legend in the industry). If you have even a faint interest in the neoclassical and pass this by, you're making a biiiiiiig mistake.

Track List:

  • Sling Shot
  • Axis
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Transition
  • Tug of War
  • Dervish
  • Ink Blot
  • Blue Kite
  • Livre
  • Waiting
  • Rainkids
  • Air & Angels
  • Vermont Rules
  • Trottola
All songs written by Joan Jeanrenaud.

Edited by: David N. Pyles
(dnpyles@acousticmusic.com)

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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