Journaling is an apt title choice for this collection of violin-based performances by Cornelius Dufallo given that the recording's title actually derives from a recital series he initiated in 2009 to document his collaborations with living composers and establish a repertoire of 21st-century violin music. No matter the title's origin, the release provides an excellent record of both the violinist's artistry and an overview of the work of eight living composers. And though the New York-based Dufallo is one of those eight, his role is more that of performer than composer on his second solo album; more precisely, the two pieces credited to him are beautiful loop exercises (inspired by Osvaldo Golijov and Jean Luc Ponty) that sit comfortably alongside the through-composed pieces by John Luther Adams, John King, and others. Adding to the recording's appeal, a satisfying range of compositional styles is presented, and though Journaling features Dufallo only it in no way feels compromised by the absence of other musicians when the soundworlds he generates using violin and electronics are so rich and multi-layered. King's “Prima Volta,” for example, uses computer-based techniques to multiply Dufallo's violin into an at-times cartwheeling dervish. An element of spontaneity enters into the piece in that some parts of the score are fixed whereas others (those that are computer-based) are influenced by chance-determined processes resulting in a piece that comes to life anew with every performance.
Huang Ruo's “Four Fragments” exemplifies a compositional approach he calls “dimensionalism”: “an organic integration of Chinese folk, Western avant-garde, rock, and jazz.” Certainly one hears elements of Eastern instrumental music in the emotional ululations with which the piece begins (the sound reminiscent of the erhu, the Chinese two-stringed fiddle), even if the playing gradually broadens out to transcend any singular geographical locale when Dufallo's attack grows more fiery. There's a fearlessness to his rendering that aligns the piece to the Western avant-garde tradition, while its aggressiveness obviously suggests a rock connection. The three-part “Three High Places” by John Luther Adams distances itself from the recording's other pieces in being less dense in its arrangement and more direct on compositional grounds, with the focus largely on Dufallo playing in a refreshingly natural mode. Adams' material thus allows for ample air to breathe through the piece, and a sense of uncluttered and open-ended spaces is evoked.
Pianist-composer Vijay Iyer likewise makes a strong impression with “playlist one (resonance),” especially in its mournful and tender episodes where Dufallo uses harmonics and pizzicato playing to communicate the material's intense emotional qualities. Using a special string tuning associated with old fiddle music, Kenji Bunch composed “Until Next Time” in the spirit of an old Scottish aire for solo fiddle, and its nostalgic character also shows how central a work's emotional character is to its potential impact. The recording's most haunting piece, however, comes from Joan Jeanrenaud, the one-time cellist for the Kronos Quartet, whose mystery-laden 2010 piece “Empty Infinity” seduces the listener with it sinuous flow of overlapping, loop-generated lines. The piece impresses for showing that Jeanrenaud is not only an esteemed player in her own right (something long known) but someone with a distinctive composing voice, too. There's no question that, as a whole, the recording confirms Dufallo's virtuoso status and also shows how skillfully he incorporates electronics so as to enhance the textural richness of his playing, but Journaling captures him using that formidable technique in deferential manner to bring his chosen composers' works to life.