January 13, 2012
IF any artists were destined to collaborate, it was surely this pair. Matt Haimovitz, a thoughtful and passionate cellist, veered away from the straight-and-narrow career path of a child prodigy to pursue new audiences in coffeehouses and nightclubs. Christopher O’Riley, an accomplished pianist — and incidentally, the host of “From the Top,” a popular PBS and NPR series that showcases very young classical musicians — likewise spends as much time in rock clubs as in recital halls.
What links the two most is an affinity for popular music that infiltrates their concerts and recordings. Reports from a current duo tour, which takes them to the Highline Ballroom next Sunday, indicate that Webern and Arcade Fire can rub elbows congenially. Curious, then, that on “Shuffle. Play. Listen.,” a new two-CD set on Mr. Haimovitz’s Oxingale label, the classical material and the pop tunes are dispatched to separate discs.
The first disc asserts the duo’s classical bona fides, an oddly unsettled version of Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” notwithstanding. Mr. Haimovitz’s singing tone is a substantial asset in folksy works by Janacek and Martinu, with Mr. O’Riley providing polished, responsive support. Interspersing those works and others with movements from Bernard Herrmann’s “Vertigo Suite” is a suitably off-kilter touch.
Mr. O’Riley, a deft arranger for solo piano, proves even more resourceful on the second disc, which features his duo reworkings of arty rock songs by Radiohead, the Cocteau Twins, Blonde Redhead and more, and jazz-fusion chestnuts by John McLaughlin. Mr. O’Riley’s transcriptions artfully deploy the same vocal quality heard in Mr. Haimovitz’s playing on the classical disc, as well as his penchant for digital-effects pedals. Mr. Haimovitz in turn prompts Mr. O’Riley to cut loose more often than he seems to on his solo albums.
As for those separate discs? Import them to your iPod, then follow the instructions of the album title.
by Steve Smith
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