January 22, 2022
Aeriform - Crush String Collective
Label: Barkhausen Recordings
Catalog #: BHR003LP
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Release Date: February 14, 2022
Media: cd or digital download
Aeriform is a new album by Crush String Collective, which is, on this record, composed of seven women who have expanded the classical string trio to include two violins, two violas and three cellos. The impact of this expansion on the music is more than simply a doubling of the instruments. Far from it, it is no hyperbole to say that Aeriform does for the classical string trio what The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet (Free Jazz, 1961) did for the traditional jazz quartet. In both cases, without loss of discipline, the tradition is exploded and the possiblities of the kind of music that such an ensemble can create is transformed.
In fact, Aeriform overcomes an additional barrier that Free Jazz did not face. There is a tendency to develop stereotypes regarding the kind of music that certain instruments can make. Listeners can be misled into believing that the saxophone can only make jazz, the electric guitar only rock, or the violin only music contained within the Western Classical tradition. Aficianados of one idiom may wholly reject an instrument claimed by another. In moving from bebop to free jazz, Coleman moved from one idiom to another, both of which embraced improvisation. In constrast, improvisation is a much smaller component of Western Classical music and the comparative difference showcased on Aeriform is therefore all the more startling.
At the risk of belaboring a point, let us take the analogy one step further. Embedded in the music of free improvisation is the individual and collective ideal of egalitarian values associated with the Civil Rights movement that gave birth to the music in the late 1950's and 1960's. For listeners of free improvisation, there can be a knee jerk rejection of the hierarchy of the Western Classical tradition in which one individual, the composer, dictates his will, in the form of a prescribed score, over the musicians who must faithfully perform it. This notion can lead listeners to the rather absurd logical conclusion that the violin especially is an instrument of subjugation, to be avoided at all costs!
The power of music of non-idiomatic improvisation in general is that it breaks boundaries. It has the ability to shatter preconceived notions and biases of the ear and mind. On Aeriform, the musicians of Crush String Collective have created a new kind of non-idiomatic improvisation. The wonderful thing about this album is its redemption of the string ensemble in the service of improvisation. It demonstrates that, in the right hands, the violin, viola and cello are no less instruments of freedom than are the saxophone, trumpet or trombone.
As for the music itself on Aeriform, the musicians display a sympathetic, collective improvisation. There is a disparate blend of melody and dissonance across a spectrum of tempos. The dozen tracks present unique vignettes that cover a broad territory and yet, when taken together, form a coherent album. We think that there is the opportunity for many open-minded listeners to find repeated pleasure in listening to Aeriform.