Elektra Collektive

505, September 19

Elektra res
The other four members of Elektra Collektive pretend their percussionist is not threatening them.

Often the most interesting artists are able to reinvent themselves, Picasso being the ultimate example. Having carved a career as a composer and violinist leading the Elektra String Quartet, Romano Crivici has now returned to his first instrument, piano, and formed a new ensemble playing compositions that draw on his Slavic heritage to varying degrees. This was Elektra Collektive’s debut.

Three years in the making, the project is a bold undertaking, with Crivici’s new compositions challenging his players, including as improvisers. For the listener the expedition was considerably easier, the music being imaginative, instantly appealing and frequently mellifluous.

The pieces were generally quite long, their structures pulling together diverse musical elements, or scrutinising specific ideas as if through a kaleidoscope. Indeed a hallmark of Crivici’s writing is his love of exploring all possible ramifications of a given motif, so that a relative economy of melodic ideas can convincingly fuel a considerable span of music. In Again And Again, for instance, a gorgeous motif was passed around the quintet like a fine decanter, its airy delicacy carrying a wistfulness that set a rather autumnal tone for the evening as a whole.

Crivici’s exceptional collaborators were Carla Thackrah (flute), Robert Harris (viola), Alex Henery (double bass) and Jess Ciampa (percussion). The instruments were amplified without the sound becoming harsh, and with the viola, in particular, retaining a singular warmth.

Some pieces contained overt grooves, with the 12/8 of Lutka Moja (My Doll) riding on the eerie sound of Ciampa’s frame drum. Standing out compositionally was Suspended, with its arresting harmonies and delightful solo features (most notably the viola’s) contributing to a miraculous sensation of floating.

The newness of the project was reflected in some tentativeness in both the notated and improvised playing, in an overly compressed dynamic range across the ensemble and in some minor lapses of rhythmic precision. But while the compositions were the stars of Crivici’s brave new world, one senses that the ensemble will soon be more than a match for them.