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Maureen Choi Quartet: Theia

These days, it's the rule rather than the exception to mix different traditions of music, and the result is sometimes a postmodern grab bag without aesthetic direction. Transgressing genres isn't inherently a sign of quality. In fact, it can be a symptom of shallowness—something that surely isn't needed in these fast-clicking times.

But then again, it also happens that an artist digs deep into different traditions of music in order to refine a personal language. This is what happens on violinist Maureen Choi's Theia. It's her third album conceived in the format of the quartet and the second with the line-up of pianist Daniel Garcia Diego, bassist Mario Carrillo and drummer Michael Olivera.

Six out of the ten tracks are original compositions by Choi, and the highlight is the opener, "Phoenix Borealis," a composition that organically incorporates elements of classical music, jazz and flamenco. It begins with an enchantingly airy classical motif reminiscent of Debussy and develops with fiery tempo and distorted buzzing bass that opens a chasm into the abyss of the sublime. Choi's violin whispers, soars and spirals into whirling patterns, exploring delicate details and forceful rhythmical strokes. It's a technical tour de force, but that's not the point. Technique is used to explore a wide variety of emotions from wistful to hot-tempered, as expressed through deftly interpreted musical tropes, embracing classical melancholy and passionate flamenco.

The dance is a returning form as emphasized by titles such as "Dance of the Fallen" and the reading of Manuel de Falla's "Danza Ritual del Fuego." Indeed, the musicians make the music dance as they elegantly explore the transition between elegiac moments and energetic optimism. Human psychology is complicated, but Choi rides the waves of emotions in a fluent musical language that never becomes bombastic or abrupt. Instead, each note is a step in an organic narrative told by the quartet. There is even a melodic postscript in the shape of a hidden track. It's worth waiting for and a charming coda to a strong musical statement.
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