This is turning out to be an incredible spring for cello music. Today we are spotlighting the debut EP from klezmer specialist Francesca Ter-Berg, who is also half of the duo Fran & Flora. Ter-Berg offers a unique take on the instrument, blending its tones with those of field recordings and electronics while drawing on the traditions of improvisation and folk.
A twelve-minute opener on a twenty-four minute EP is a bold move, but it pays off. The artist creates thickets of sound that resemble the gardener’s morass on the cover; then in the final minutes, she clears a path. The cello even vanishes for a spell, leaving an impression of creaking trees. When the strings return, they do so delicately, as if stepping across freshly churned land, avoiding obstacles along the way.
If one is not expecting it, the solo voice of the following 50-second piece comes as a surprise. “Oi Ihr Narishe Tsionistn” is a Yiddish workers’ song from the early 20th century, a call to solidarity that rings just as true today as it did back then. The voice disappears into a cough and intimations of chimes on “Wtybcrechk,” but now the listener is on edge. There’s obviously more to this artist than meets the ear. Again we are back in the forest, but this time we think of cultures who call such lush greens their home, the environs of nature, the security of a blanket of stars.
Ter-Berg rewards such speculations with a Sinti song, “Me Sunowa,” recalling the noble gypsies whose way of life has all too often been demeaned. Her clear reverence for the source material shines through the strings as she shifts from the wordless voice of the third piece to the reverent lyrics of the fourth. Given such themes, it’s no surprise that her debut EP is presented under the Spirituals banner of the label Phantom Limb. (Richard Allen)