Todd Reynolds: Outerborough
Five years in the making, Outerborough is a bravura collection from Todd Reynolds that pairs a disc of his own compositions (“InSide”) for violin and electronics with a second (“OutSide”) featuring the one-time student of Jascha Heifetz playing works composed for him by Michael Gordon, David Lang, Phil Kline, David T. Little, Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong (of The Books), Ken Thomson, Michael Lowenstern, and Paula Matthusen. Taking the road less traveled, Reynolds boldly goes where few solo violinists have gone before, plunging into bold and genre-defying areas in a high-wire performance deserving of applause. It would appear that such adventurousness comes naturally to one who's been a long-time member of Bang On A Can, Steve Reich and Musicians, and an early participant in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, and the list of artists with whom he's recorded—Anthony Braxton, Meredith Monk, Uri Caine, John Cale, Steve Coleman, Joe Jackson, and Greg Osby among them—is, it goes without saying, impressive too.
“InSide” is, as mentioned, played almost entirely by Reynolds alone yet covers a broad stylistic range, especially when the violinst makes full use of the opportunities afforded by computer technology and looping software to generate multiple layers of violin, percussion, and drones. That Outerborough won't be a traditional violin-based recording is made clear when Reynolds opens it with “Transamerica,” an extroverted piece wherein beatboxing samples courtesy of guest Kid Beyond careen hyperactively alongside percussive throbs and the violinist's own wild playing, and then follows it with “Solution,” where a sitar's glistenening drone forms the meditative backdrop for pizzicati plucks and bowings. For those whose taste inclines towards the traditional there's “End of Day,” a mournful dirge played with great feeling by Reynolds, while “Taskforce:Farmlab,” excerpted from a larger dance score, conveys in its soaring lines the free-flight of bodies arcing through space. “Centrifuge” is clearly anomalous in that the instrument heard isn't violin but the LEMUR GuitarBot, an instrument created by the League of Musical Urban Robots (recently featured on Pat Metheny's Orchestrion Tour), which plays the tune's intricate patterns with an almost inhuman degree of precision. Even so, there's no shortage of Reynolds' string playing on display, and he shows himself (on the title track, in particular, plus a re-imagining of “Greensleeves” called “Icy Sleeves of Green v2.0”) to be a remarkably accomplished and confident player.
Not surprisingly, the “OutSide” disc ventures even further afield than the other, but that's to be expected when the pieces come from an eclectic group of New York composers, most of whom composed their pieces especially for Reynolds' album. Minimalism, systems music, and electronica surface in pieces by Gordon, Zammuto, and de Jong, while Kline's “A Needle Pulling Fred” adds a slightly menacing tone to the collection in a piece that Reynolds navigates with the same eagle-eyed focus he brings to all of the collection's pieces. The second disc expands on the sonic palette of the first by adding voice samples to many pieces plus a few instances of drum programming ( woodwinds also join Reynolds' strings on Thomson's “Storm Drain”). Lowenstern's “Crossroads” pairs countrified violin swing with blues vocal samples and and a throbbing bass undertow. Little's “and the sky was still there” likewise adds a voiceover but in this case one by a female soldier elaborating on the de-humanizating cost of staying closeted within the military. In addition, “Tree-Oh” by Bang On A Can's Michael Gordon situates three violins within an interlocking rhythm-based setting that impresses despite its seeming simplicity, and Lang's aptly titled “Killer” brings the project to a rather vicious end, with slashing violin lines relentlessly battered by primitive percussive hammering. Though some of the second disc sacrifices some of the first's focus for being so wide-ranging, the release as a whole all adds up to a thoroughly impressive statement by Reynolds.