Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CD Review – Elements, by Matthew Schoening

All the elements come together perfectly on Matthew Schoening’s latest CD, which has the composer and musician leading a rich symphony of sound composed of guitars, bass, keyboards, horns, and percussion. Being in charge of such a tight unit comes naturally to Schoening, especially since all of these elements are literally under his direct control – all of the aforementioned instruments (or their sounds, at least) are generated entirely by Schoening on his electric cello live in front of an audience of 75 people, with no prerecorded tracks or postproduction editing or overdubs.

Thanks to the technology of live looping, Schoening functions as a one-man band, and the results are stellar. This kind of showmanship can easily be gimmicky and come at the expense of true, creative musical expression. Not so in this case. While Schoening’s inventive capability is something to marvel at, it is only more impressive because it is simply a tool used toward a greater end – that of making beautiful, compelling music.

And beautiful and compelling the music is. The album is one 45-minute suite composed of five movements: “Water,” “Air,” “Fire,” “Earth,” and “Spirit” – the elements of the title. The movements have numbered program changes strictly for the purpose of identification, but they really function as one complete whole. Stylistically, the music is jazz improvisation embellished with the lush sonic textures of New Age.

This CD is quite the achievement in terms of both Schoening’s ingenuity and artistry. Innovatively and compositionally, Schoening is to the electric cello what Pat Metheny is to the electric guitar. Schoening at times even sounds like the Pat Metheny Group, without the Group. One of the finest recordings available in the marketplace, the album deserves to be an instant classic and warrants the attention of serious music devotees.

--Raj Manoharan

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