Insa Donja Kai: Insomnie Joyeuse
Sonic Pieces

The oddly named Insa Donja Kai turns out to be not so unusual after all: the name is simply a combination of the given names of cellists Insa Schirmer and Donja Djember and percussionist Kai Angermann. Theirs obviously is an unusual sound, however, as one would have to look far and wide to find another trio outfit that uses two cellists as its front-line melodic voices. The natural question is: is enough listening interest generated by Insomnie Joyeuse when the instrumental voices are limited to but two only? The answer is, of course, most definitely, at least in so far as the answer comes from this outfit, as Schirmer and Djember do much to hold the listener's attention by creating multiple weaves of background and foreground patterns and Angermann mixes things up by complementing the string players with a wide range of percussive treatments.

The group has, in fact, been active for a number of years, even if behind the scenes and therefore unbeknownst to many (most notably, Insa Donja Kai has played and recorded with pianist-composer Hauschka), and so are more than ready to step into the spotlight on their own. The opener “Expansion II” finds the group plunging into the material with no lack of conviction or confidence, and at this early stage a strategy declares itself when one cellist plays ostinato patterns as a base against which the other more freely extemporizes. The cellists rarely adhere to such strict role-playing, however, but instead coil their emotive lines fluidly in and around one another—a wise move that makes this thirty-seven-minute recording more engrossing than it otherwise might have been. “Close to Leaves” proves ear-catching in the way the cellists ride its rollicking waves in unison, even if they also deviate from their shared path at specific moments during the ride. As an instrument, the cello obviously packs a powerful emotional punch, and Insa Donja Kai exploits that to full effect on the mournful classical setting “Et de lointain la neige” and oft-anguished “Except Memories.” It's also an instrument that can be exploited percussively, which the trio explores during the lurching exploration “Synoise.”

Surprisingly, it's only by the third setting, the improv-styled “End Silence,” that Angermann makes his presence felt, but then does so memorably by countering the strings (more functioning as background elements) with showers of glistening vibraphone patterns; on the later “Except Memories” and “Yurnadev,” his cymbals and drum accents help point the material in an Easterly direction. Some of the album's nine pieces sound through-composed whereas others (e.g., “Starglass Stones,” “Synoise”) resemble improvs (spontaneous compositions, if you prefer) that, admittedly, are ultimately less compelling by comparison. That caveat notwithstanding, Insomnie Joyeuse holds up well enough as an argument in support of Insa Donja Kai's highly personalized approach to music-making.

October 2012