On the third outing with her quartet, American violinist and composer Maureen Choi perfects the style she has been developing over the past albums with much love for detail and an awareness of the catchy and the danceable. In a mix of originals and interpretations of Spanish and Latin American classics, Choi's quartet presents over an hour of enticing rhythms and melodies, with an invigorating energy that is an invitation to join in.
Born in Michigan, and having attended Berklee College of Music, Choi currently resides in Madrid and teaches at Centro Superior Música Creativa. Beside her activities as a teacher, however, she performs all over Spain with her quartet, which mesmerizes with a very meticulously through-composed style that fuses Spanish and Latin-American rhythms with jazz improvisation.
Theia opens with her original composition "Phoenix Borealis," which in itself works as a suite; soft and swift arpeggios on piano give way to a sweet melody on violin, recalling the work of Yann Tiersen for the modern French movie classic Amélie. However, things don't remain sweet and innocent for long; the band picks up the pace and volume, before a marching-rhythm takes over and drenches the composition in a fast Bolero feel. Many dynamic shifts and pristine interplay make up the remaining duration of the song. An adequate introduction to the band.
No shocking genre-hopping is found on Theia but rather smooth transitions between rhythms and sections—a little flamenco here, some fandango there and compelling motifs in minor, changing color to a joyful major counterpart, as demonstrated on the lively "Canto Samanchino," another Choi original. Michael Olivera keeps his drumming at a minimal width and in compact form, thereby creating the determined drive that forces piano and violin to follow suit.
The band's take on Paco de Lucia's "Cepa Andaluza," here titled "Dear Paco," demonstrates the band at its most percussive, and highlights Choi's impeccable violin playing. "Love is the Answer," another cover, written by the Spanish pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, sees Choi and her band dialing it down a notch and giving a worthy rendition of a harmonious ballad that exhibits the band's dynamic interplay.
It is most impressive how Choi and her sidemen have created an album that is so easy to listen to and simultaneously of such a highly virtuoso nature. The impeccable chemistry between all players, combined with a balanced show of virtuosity and elaborate compositions, make Theia an enjoyable record that can be savored attentively in the foreground or as an intimate background setting: It is the listener's choice.
Track Listing: Phoenix Borealis; Dance of the Fallen; Canto Salamanchino; Silverio O. García; Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza); Sinner's Prayer; Love is the Answer; Bok Choi (Pajarillo); September, the First; Danza Ritual del Fuego. All compositions by Maureen Choi except: “Love is the Answer” - Daniel García Diego “Dear Paco (Cepa Andaluza)” - Paco de Lucía “Bok Choi (Pajarillo)” - Traditional Venezuelan “Danza Ritual del Fuego” - Manuel de Falla arranged by Mario Carrillo
Personnel: Maureen Choi: violin; Daniel García Diego: piano; Mario Carrillo: double bass; Michael Olivera: drums.
Title: Theia | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Barco Records