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Paul Elwood with Xiao-Fen

June 25, 2016


Innova Rec.  Paul Elwood : Stanley Kubrick's Mountain Home (US,2011)****


It is highly unusual, the worlds which banjo player and composer Paul Elwood brings together: bluegrass, Appalachian folk and contemporary classical music, and a few more things beyond this. Partly this is born out of the meeting point with other professional musicians. With cello legend Hank Roberts for instance who I admire as well, with whom he came to improvise on the old American folk tune, “Old Joe Clark”. This became the first track on the album. On this track is some singing included in a deep breathy bluesy voice. Its banjo arrangement is kept simple and therefore it gives Hank his own spaces, played in his typical way as an improvising talent. 


“In The Zone” is a commission for the Brevard (North Carolina) Chamber Orchestra with a strange contemporary melody, odd harmonic chords and filmic classical orchestrated harmonies mixed with a banjo improvisation which starts sad but becomes lighter and more driven by more harmonising melody and string accompanied harmony. Then it develops further after a few strange filmic textures with a couple of musical box sounds, to more picking lightness with plugged violin and a folkier approach, also for the orchestra, not forgetting the starting point with a small even a slightly surreal context awareness with the return to the more old movie alike filmic orchestral descriptions of the first setting. 


“Chuck Old Hen” is a bluegrass tune on banjo played by John Hartford and fiddle. 


The main title track, “Stanley Kubrick’s Mountain Home” is a dream, a vision, which Paul Elwood had for a chamber music composition that would include Appalachian music. Where in “A Space Odyssey” the main character of the movie is getting lost into a new, future destiny, Paul Elwood imagines this as the visionary world given in dedication to the banjo player John Hartford who recently passed away, including the expressions of bluegrass riding away, not sure to which world. It has of course the expected contrasts. The classical soprano Ilna Davidson leads the main vocal core, which is contributing like in a story telling setting. This has arrangements with violin, flute and strings and piano in new classical music style. Some spoken word is added, based upon a text on the moon written by Paul’s mother, found just after she died. The banjo and the violin more often take over the classical part with bluegrass and Appalachian ideas. It is Paul’s own musical world gliding between two extremes, finding a context here, without a real meeting point other than describing the world differently but still together, gliding in one direction between two opposite positions remaining side by side. 


This is followed by one more bluegrass traditional improvisation on fiddle and five-string banjo. The last track is a last meeting point, with Min Xiao-Fen on the Chinese pipa, Paul on banjo and Stephen Dury on piano. Here the banjo adapts itself well to the pipa, as well as to the contemporary music feel. 


Paul Elwood is capable of changing the world of the banjo with different approaches. He only needs some good occasion to really cross the lines between the separately developed techniques and improvisational skills.



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