Hugh Marsh - Violinvocations

A Closer Listen

The first thing people will ask upon hearing this album is, “Where’s the violin?”  Trust us, it’s there.  But Hugh Marsh has spent decades defying expectations, and he’s not about to change now ~ especially because it’s been a decade since his last album, and he’d prefer a triumphant return.  So let’s list a few of his associates and projects before scrapping the comparisons.  He’s played with Loreena McKennitt, Peter Murphy and the Barenaked Ladies, and contributed to the soundtracks of Armageddon and Shrek 2.  In 2007, one of his albums was nominated for a Juno Award in the Contemporary Jazz category.

Take a moment to imagine what his music might sound like today.  Then click the player below.

 

Were you right?

“I Laid Down in the Snow” was first featured in our Winter Music Preview, then spent a month on our Recommendations page.  It’s a perfect track for winter, with static like snow and distortions like drifts. But what about that foreground instrument?  Is this a cornet?  It sounds like a cornet, but we’re going to have to go with violin, even though our ears scream that we’re wrong.  One thing we agree on: the track sounds mournful.  “I Laid Down in the Snow” was in fact composed after the dissolution of a relationship and a stranding in a foreign city.  That sadness will be magnified months later when the composer’s mother passes away, reflected in the album’s closer, “She Will.” This piece sounds more hopeful ~ as befits a closing track.  Layers and effect pedals are not enough to obscure the clarity of Marsh’s violin as he performs this tender elegy.

Now we’ve read the beginning and skipped to the end.  There’s no Armageddon here, no Barenaked Ladies.  But there’s also little connection to jazz.  For that one will need to travel to the meaty middle, which in contrast to the opener and closer might be defined ~ with admiration ~ as deeply weird.  The composer travels far afield, touching upon multiple genres.  Bracketed by a pair of losses, one might interpret these wanderings as the product of a mind attempting to return home, like lost Alice.  “Miku Murmuration” contains voices like those of the Lollypop Kids, something one would never encounter on a Loreena McKennitt album.  Their tone is playful, like Minions.  The chances that anyone saw this coming: zero.  Flavors of improvised jazz surface at the tail end of the subsequent piece, a reminder of the artist’s former life.  “The Rain Gambler” is decorated with electronic bursts like exploding stars.  And all the while, the notes wobble like thoughts dislodged from their moorings: a mind in crisis.

Despite these tonal disruptions, the pieces flirt with light.  When the voices return in “Da Solo Non Solitario in WV178,” they sound more like Jóhann Jóhannsson’s digitizations than the exclamations of Miku, the Japanese hologram star: still childlike, but calmer, more reflective.  “A Beautiful Mistake” is unhinged, at times dissonant, marked by metallic feedback and rubber percussion.  Marsh’s joy in noise continues through the tabla-esque “Across the Aether,” but halfway through one can hear the violin slipping in, insisting on clarity.  By the end, the artist returns to where he began, mourning leading to mourning, ending on a different note.  Like Alice, Marsh is changed by his experiences: knocked off-kilter, landing wiser.  (Richard Allen)

Tue Feb 12 01:01:33 CET 2019

70

Tiny Mix Tapes

Hugh Marsh
Violinvocations

[Western Vinyl; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

As I write this, it’s early February in Olympia, Washington. A blanket of snow covers the lawn. The lake that I live beside is partially frozen over. Yet the world goes on. Ducks paddle in pairs through the water, turning a commuter’s nightmare into a romantic getaway. Birds of all types — wrens, sparrows, even blue jays — wing around excitedly; some rest on branches; others hop across the snow, foraging for food. Snowflakes fall softly to the ground.

Electric violinist Hugh Marsh enjoys a good contradiction. Violinvocations, his latest solo album, muddles expectations rivaling those within his career. In 2007, Marsh was nominated for a Juno Award in jazz, a genre that he grew up playing as a child. But jazz is only one facet of his practice. As a featured player, he has also made rounds on soundtracks by Hans Zimmer, like The Da Vinci Code, and by Harry Gregson-Williams, contributing to everything from Armageddon to Shrek 2. He’s recorded with rock icons such as Iggy Pop and Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Celtic songwriters, and Turkish DJs. The only constant is contrast: brightly colored birds playing in the snow.

Although billed as a suite of solo songs, Violinvocations sounds like a sprawling band project. The title of the single “Da Solo Non Solitaro” translates roughly to alone, but not lonely. This could describe the history behind Marsh’s album: Violinvocations was recorded when the Toronto-based Marsh arrived in Los Angeles for a recording project that, unbeknownst to him, had been canceled. As if that weren’t enough, Marsh was recovering from a recent breakup. Transforming setbacks into hope, Marsh set out to record a track per day. Furthermore, since he was sharing a studio with fellow musician Jon Hassell, he was forced to finish by 10 AM every day. Empowered by constraints, Marsh mined the following six months into inspiration.

Violinvocations evokes the same sort of mid-winter wonderland aviary — cold to the touch, yet happy to be alive. Although permeated by a subtle sorrow and an art-damaged aura, its eight tracks dazzle with a perplexing sort of joy, a winged playfulness that makes a home of hardships. Defying weather reports and gravity, Marsh draws deeply from his instincts, often recording in single takes. Even the darkest moments are imbued with renewal.

“I Laid Down In The Snow” is thick with sleet. Guitar arpeggios ripple through radio noise, while violin seesaws in a synthetic vibrato. The helium-huffing “Miku Murmuration” references the Japanese pop idol, using a guitar pedal to process a cartoonish vocal melody. “Thirtysix Hundred Grandview” plays ping pong with pizzicato notes. A hillside of cicadas duet with a weeping violin on “The Rain Gambler.”

Blessed be distortion pedals! “A Beautiful Mistake” makes no apology for its rock allegiance, transforming a gurgling, swirling mass of steel string into Hendrix-approved electric riffage. Marsh evokes Noh theater with “Da Solo Non Solitaro,” the performers garbed in sheets, twirling against a backdrop of shooting stars. “Across The Aether” reaches back into time, enacting the Big Bang with rays of sweetly bowed violin emerging from crackling static.

The album’s closer, “She Will,” wasn’t intended to be a eulogy. Unfortunately, Marsh’s mother passed away soon after he finished the album. Although recorded before her passing, a reflective sadness permeates the recording. It takes grace to lend one’s sorrow strength. We’ve come full circle. While “I Laid Down In The Snow” busied itself with snow angels and toboggans, “She Will” sits with the silence that comes only after great storms. Trees sag with snow; birds return to their nests; twilight reveals endless constellations.

The contrasts within Hugh Marsh’s Violinvocation draw beauty from darkness. Of course, lingering outside in this weather isn’t recommended, but that won’t stop some from trying. Others with less insulation may prefer indoor comforts. Just light a fire, and grab a mug of warm cider. It’s the perfect opportunity to call a loved one. Don’t let the day pass without a prayer.

Wed Mar 20 05:01:56 CET 2019

70

Tiny Mix Tapes

Hugh Marsh
Violinvocations

[Western Vinyl; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

As I write this, it’s early February in Olympia, Washington. A blanket of snow covers the lawn. The lake that I live beside is partially frozen over. Yet the world goes on. Ducks paddle in pairs through the water, turning a commuter’s nightmare into a romantic getaway. Birds of all types — wrens, sparrows, even blue jays — wing around excitedly; some rest on branches; others hop across the snow, foraging for food. Snowflakes fall softly to the ground.

Electric violinist Hugh Marsh enjoys a good contradiction. Violinvocations, his latest solo album, muddles expectations rivaling those within his career. In 2007, Marsh was nominated for a Juno Award in jazz, a genre that he grew up playing as a child. But jazz is only one facet of his practice. As a featured player, he has also made rounds on soundtracks by Hans Zimmer, like The Da Vinci Code, and by Harry Gregson-Williams, contributing to everything from Armageddon to Shrek 2. He’s recorded with rock icons such as Iggy Pop and Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), Celtic songwriters, and Turkish DJs. The only constant is contrast: brightly colored birds playing in the snow.

Although billed as a suite of solo songs, Violinvocations sounds like a sprawling band project. The title of the single “Da Solo Non Solitaro” translates roughly to alone, but not lonely. This could describe the history behind Marsh’s album: Violinvocations was recorded when the Toronto-based Marsh arrived in Los Angeles for a recording project that, unbeknownst to him, had been canceled. As if that weren’t enough, Marsh was recovering from a recent breakup. Transforming setbacks into hope, Marsh set out to record a track per day. Furthermore, since he was sharing a studio with fellow musician Jon Hassell, he was forced to finish by 10 AM every day. Empowered by constraints, Marsh mined the following six months into inspiration.

Violinvocations evokes the same sort of mid-winter wonderland aviary — cold to the touch, yet happy to be alive. Although permeated by a subtle sorrow and an art-damaged aura, its eight tracks dazzle with a perplexing sort of joy, a winged playfulness that makes a home of hardships. Defying weather reports and gravity, Marsh draws deeply from his instincts, often recording in single takes. Even the darkest moments are imbued with renewal.

“I Laid Down In The Snow” is thick with sleet. Guitar arpeggios ripple through radio noise, while violin seesaws in a synthetic vibrato. The helium-huffing “Miku Murmuration” references the Japanese pop idol, using a guitar pedal to process a cartoonish vocal melody. “Thirtysix Hundred Grandview” plays ping pong with pizzicato notes. A hillside of cicadas duet with a weeping violin on “The Rain Gambler.”

Blessed be distortion pedals! “A Beautiful Mistake” makes no apology for its rock allegiance, transforming a gurgling, swirling mass of steel string into Hendrix-approved electric riffage. Marsh evokes Noh theater with “Da Solo Non Solitaro,” the performers garbed in sheets, twirling against a backdrop of shooting stars. “Across The Aether” reaches back into time, enacting the Big Bang with rays of sweetly bowed violin emerging from crackling static.

The album’s closer, “She Will,” wasn’t intended to be a eulogy. Unfortunately, Marsh’s mother passed away soon after he finished the album. Although recorded before her passing, a reflective sadness permeates the recording. It takes grace to lend one’s sorrow strength. We’ve come full circle. While “I Laid Down In The Snow” busied itself with snow angels and toboggans, “She Will” sits with the silence that comes only after great storms. Trees sag with snow; birds return to their nests; twilight reveals endless constellations.

The contrasts within Hugh Marsh’s Violinvocation draw beauty from darkness. Of course, lingering outside in this weather isn’t recommended, but that won’t stop some from trying. Others with less insulation may prefer indoor comforts. Just light a fire, and grab a mug of warm cider. It’s the perfect opportunity to call a loved one. Don’t let the day pass without a prayer.

Wed Mar 20 05:01:56 CET 2019