There’s an odd stigma when it comes to the mandolin. You’re either old school and soft, or you’re brazen and unrefined. You’re either a classical stalwart to the instrument or a bluegrass hobo edging toward the country twang. Despite crops of mandolinists in a variety of country (Chris Thile, Emily Robison) and pop bluegrass acts (Marcus Mumford, Cheyenne), no one has really blurred the lines between the gentle allure a fine-tuned mandolinist can posses with an edgy but rounded program that showcases the interpretive range the instrument is capable of.
Enter Avi Avital’s Between Worlds – a portal between two ethereal visionary landscapes of the mandolin whose experimentation with aggressive performance style succeeds with a balanced but diversified-enough program. Avital takes a wordly look with his mandolin at rhythms uncommon with traditional mandolinists and is rewarded with a much thawed-out sound that provides the most attractive recorded program heard from the instrument in some time.
Off the get go, Avital charters new territory with a playful dance of the “Sachidao from Miniatures on Georgian Folk Themes” and maintains the joyful banter on Manuel de Falla’s “Siete Canciones populares espanolas.” While its cliché to say there’s a romanticism that often comes tied to the mandolin, Avital practically oozes a seductive aura on the Freilach Ron that’s above and beyond sexy.
And while Between Worlds is Avital’s roadshow to go guns-a-blazin’, he never strays too far away from a focused precision that made him one of the rising Baroque specialists of his peers. Avital teeters with a strict tightness when it comes to Bartók’s “Roumanian Folk Dances” and really stays in a narrow window of control on pieces such as Ernest Bloch’s “Baal Shem: 2. Nigun” and Tsintsadze’s “Shepherd’s Dance.”
What may be the most appealing of Between Worlds is a proper balance between sheer rawness and a charismatic . Listening to the two star highlights from the record, it’s almost unfathomable to hear the aggressive traditional Bulgarian folk song Bucimis on the same page with the tranquil and placid traditional Welsh tune “Hen Ferchetan,” but Avital makes it work without hiccups in continuity.
There are a few mild kinks that hamper the overall experience of Between Worlds (the misplaced “Fuga y misterio” being a perplexing inclusion) and perhaps a bit more thunder selections as Bucimis would have been more warmly welcomed in light of the record’s relatively hesitant pace. It’s hard to classify Between Worlds as an album in celebration of the versatility of the mandolin, and that’s a good thing. There’s an ignorance to Between Worlds that goes against the grain of anything before it and refuses to be a formulaic mandolin record, opting to be something more memorable. Avital’s fresh fingers on Between Worlds radiates with a creatively-liberating openness that harkens the charm a mandolin beckons but with an edge that gives the instrument a toughness not often heard.
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