There can be only one. For anyone familiar with the film, the word highlander will always conjure images of epic fantasy, swords and beheadings. It’s a good thing the new album from Polish violinist Tomasz Sroczynski has the drama to match. As part of Ici d’ailleurs’ Mind Travels series, the album invites imagination while displaying the product of the composer’s fertile brain.
Sroczynski’s also works in carpentry, lives in the woods, constructs items from wood, and performs primarily on a wooden instrument. His blend of improvisations and loops is akin to woodwork. Beneath his hands, knots and whorls coalesce into new forms. This is most apparent on the opening “Moderato Pastorale,” which plunges right into the bark, then begins to trace the rings, circle after circle. Around these loops lie subtle variations, discolorations, seemingly random scars. The volume retreats and advances. Counter-melodies appear and disappear. All the while, the trunk remains. While the track is the album’s most immediate, there’s no escaping the power of its opening statement.
“Adagio” is a different animal, hiding at first deep in its cave, daring intrepid explorers to enter in. Then it grows hungry and wanders out. Hints of Górecki grace the opening minutes, packed with slowly-unfurling emotion. Sroczynski makes maximum use of the stereo field, producing a three-dimensional effect. Danger is replaced by a supreme longing: not for food, but companionship. In “Diablak” (which refers to a mountain in Poland), the timbre turns nearly to rock, a repeated two-note riff setting the stage for a quick climb. But when the violin lines encase separate speakers, one thinks instead of techno, one of the artist’s stated influences. Three movements, three sides to the composer, and now Symphony n°2 is over and we can turn our attention to head-lopping.
“Highlander” is more restrained than one might predict, like a trip across the highlands in warm leather boots. The electronic influence shines through as a bubbling pulse beating beneath the ambience. It’s possible that the artist may be preparing for a cross-genre career. As the strings take over, the timbre changes incrementally there’s no identifiable moment when the ambience ends and the modern composition begins. By the end, one is ready for the brash phrases of the opening track to reassert themselves. Those who resequence the album at home may prefer a rousing finale, but it’s equally effective to fade into the sublime. (Richard Allen)