In string quartets, it may serve as the "bottom," the baby bass violin. In symphony orchestras, it is presented in multiples and blends in with the entire ensemble. But by itself on a 42-minute album? Well?...
This possibility is explored by Paris-born cellist Vincent Courtois on L'Imprevu, the very first release by re:think-art records. Here, Courtois offers 12 intriguing performances that feature his cello engaging in conversation, singing, snarling, and creating drama...by itself.
Courtois' mission on L'Imprevu—which means "unforeseen, unexpected" in English—is to take the cello beyond its traditional classical music context. This effort is not meant to be perfect, polite recital music. Courtois' approach recalls how the late Fred Hopkins explored the acoustic bass: get whatever and as much sound from the instrument; this includes all sounds beautiful and all sounds rough, through fingers and bow, on the neck, the belly, and the bridge.
The title track—the only selection not written by Courtois—bookends this album. With the first performance, Courtois engages the cello in a probing call and response between its high and low registers. For the closer, Courtois begins with a furious "bow-down," takes an eight-count rest, and then proceeds to pluck out contrasting notes, although the range is not as wide as the opener.
When performing "Alone with G" and "No Smoking," Courtois presents his pizzicato technique. What make these performances stand out, though, is the cello's prominent natural wood sound and string vibrations. The cello, especially on the latter selection, resembles an acoustic bass as Courtois tackles its lower ranges. "No Smoking" is most notable with its daring, allegro passages that peak before concluding with Courtois strumming his axe.
L'Imprevu's most dramatic moments happen on "Amnesique Tarentelle" and "Skins." Both performances could really serve as soundtracks for life's most memorable—or forgettable—happenings. Remember that time something important did (or did not) happen, and your heart's heart talked faster and screamed louder than your brain? Or perhaps you were being pursued on that darker and longer-than-it-has-ever-been-before city street? Well, those moments now come with music on "Amnesique Tarentelle." The racing heartbeats evoked from Courtois transition to swirling, abstract sounds before concluding abruptly with a mysterious sound that, perhaps, came from the cello's body.
With "Skins," Courtois delivers his best one-man orchestra performance through multi-tracking. Unlike the foreboding tone set with the aforementioned track, "Skins" has a brighter, more melodic vibe. While at least two cellos chant repeatedly below, Courtois presents a lower-pitched musing above before venturing into a fast flurry that provides interesting contrast. Remember those galloping horses shown in beer commercials—horses do like to bend an elbow or two at the bar, don't they?—well, that scene now has a newer, hipper soundtrack...no announcer needed.
Courtois comes closest to a traditional string quartet performance on "Regards" and "La Visite." On "Regards," Courtois' multi-tracking evokes an ethereal quality that, emotionally, is beautiful and brief. Courtois'precise performance in this style continues on "La Visite," which combines a straight, melodic start with a foray into more dramatic wonderings where his bow roams voici et voila for a very varied and dramatic effect.