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9 Horses: Strum

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9 Horses: Strum
9 Horses [left to right: Sara Caswell, Joe Brent and Andrew Ryan photographed by Shervin Lainez

There can be no doubt that Joe Brent – expectantly – threw down the immense gauntlet to the three co-conspirators that together [with him] make up a mathematically remarkable 9 Horses, that probably went something like this: Let’s see how far we can get when we pry open – then push – the envelope on the magical sound world of pizzicato. The answer, in a word, is, of course, the album Strum.

9 Horses: Strum is available on vinyl, CD and digital platforms

Expanded across an 8-song repertoire – one, more fascinating than the other – is of course as exhilarating as listing to a consort of musicians on each track sound like a whole crashing orchestra, rising and falling, in diminuendo and crescendo led by the myriad of string instruments played by Mr Brent, the violin and hardanger d’amore of the brilliant Sara Caswell and the rumble and growl of the contrabass of Andrew Ryan, together 9 Horses.

The adventurous music is launched immediately with the title track, Strum, and listeners are propelled into the wondrous megalopolis of inharmonicity. Here a microcosmic world of frequencies of overtones detonates a multitude of tonal atoms buzzing and chattering melodically, harmoniously, inharmoniously, and rhythmically in quantum packets of songful sunbursts of music. It’s not all plucked strings – or strings played con arco, of course.

We soon find our ears opened wide with music that is evocative of a multitude of soundworlds colliding, colour and tonal palettes exploding, all of which makes for a sonic landscape evocative of [and from] endless vistas à la Richard Strauss, and Jean Sebelius, of Aaron Copeland and Ralph Vaughan Williams, the aural canvases of Maurice Ravel the brilliant mischief of Igor Stravinsky.

And from there into the electronica inspired by from the radical worlds of musicians from Karl Heinz Stockhausen to Terry Riley, the bluegrass world of Vassar Clements, the blues from Son House, bebop of Bird and everyone into the modern era, the jagged and ever-changing rhythmic evocations of Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman. This culminates in the brilliantly ecstatic crescendos of The House That Ate Myself.

In short, the excellent album of songs – Strum – by 9 Horses is like an elegant railway system linking jazz, folk and the chamber music style of the serialist and post-serialist 20th century conservatoire. But to describe it as such gives the impression of overcooking when it is a masterpiece of subtlety. Mr Brent and 9 Horses meld their sound not only with an expanded string consort, but this music also employs the inharmonic sounds of drums and cymbals, and the overtones produced by the rounded, whole number multiples of the fundamental frequency of the tabla.

The strings of 9 Horses often spacy employs the cool bending notes of Phrygian modes, summoning the wondrous support of flute oboe and saxophone. The sound of the reeds and flues of flute and woodwinds they initiate gently vibrating [flues], reeds and lips in mode-locking which counteracts the natural inharmonicity of the musicians’ columns of warm lungsful of air that – incredibly – lock onto the natural resonance of the strings and other instruments to produce a soaring harmonic architecture of the music. [A full list of contributing guest musicians is listed below].

And lets not forget the discreet, pizzicato harmonics of the pianos, the delicate curlicue of bass lines which often underpin the soaring violins, violas, and cellos what sound like Gaelic laments, and the close-knit phrases that begin in the trio context only to explode like the nuclear corona of the noonday sun. This is not only mind-bending music where nothing is exaggerated of overly mannered; tempo, ensemble, and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right.

Deo gratis…

Strum by 9 Horses… a prelude…

Music – 1. Strum; 2. Americannia; 3. Gasparilla; 4. Röhrl; 5. Long Time Away; 6. Jenny-Pop Nettle Eater; 7. Just Don’t Call It That; 8. The House That Ate Myself.

Musicians – Joe Brent: acoustic and electric mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, resonator guitar, baritone guitar, Nashville guitar, violin, ba?lama, tenor banjo, vihuela, lyre, piano, celesta, synths, and synth programming, kalimba, glockenspiel, percussion; Sara Caswell: violin, hardanger d’amore; Andrew Ryan: acoustic bass. With guest contributions from – Blair McMillen and Glenn Zaleski: pianos; Michael Bellar: Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, Moog One, Solina String Ensemble, Juno-106, and synth programming; Sam Sadigursky: alto and soprano saxophones; Anna Urrey: flute and piccolo; Hsuan-Fong Chen: oboe; Kaoru Watanabe: shinobue, koto, and taiko; Brandon Ridenour: Bb and piccolo trumpets; Mike Robinson: pedal steel; Justin Goldner; electric bass, and cümbü?; Joe Brent, Ben Russell, and Claudia Chopek: violins; Claudia Chopek and Beth Meyers: violas; Emily Hope Price: cellos; John Hadfield, Victor Otoniel Vargas, Jason Treuting, and Kevin Garcia: drums and percussion; Mike List: tabla; Jhair Sala: timbales; Samuel Torres: conga; Kate Steinberg: vocals.

Released – 2024
Label – Adhyâropa Records [052]
[adhyaroparecords.com]
Runtime – 1:07:17

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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