Thirty or so years ago, classical/rock crossover was the sort of thing that made the heart sink faster than the arrival of a quarterly gas bill. It was usually instigated by rock musicians whose egos were way bigger than any accompanying talent. The classical players roped in, would grimace and squirm with embarrassment, kept going only with the promise of a big wad of cash at the end of it. Think Deep Purple, Keith Emerson, Paul McCartney etc. and weep silently at the horror of it all.
Things are very different these days. A trail was blazed in the nineties by the likes of Rachel’s. These were a new generation of musician – classically trained, but who grow up with the punk rock ethos that anyone can and should have a go. The long-standing borders between ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ music were sneered at, and a new kind of creativity came to the fore whose only boundaries were those of the imagination. The last decade or so has seen a rich growth of this kind of genre-defying music. Some is wilfully experimental and self-consciously difficult, but some is readily accessible to anyone open minded enough to try. The ‘indie’ hoards haven’t yet traded their guitars for violins, but who knows, that day may come soon. Surely there’s only so many times you can recycle the past.
Brooklyn based Build are a quintet rooted firmly in the small ensemble classical tradition, but with influences that stretch from Steve Reich’s minimalism to bluegrass. One major difference is that they have, in Adam Gold, a drummer who underpins things with rock, jazz and r&b rhythms. The group’s leader is violinist and composer Matt McBane, and it’s his playing that takes centre stage through most of their self-titled debut. Unlike many acts working in this field, the predominant mood is not sombre and reflective. This is much more active, almost jumpy music. “Magnet” has an almost punk intensity that brings to mind Canadian duo Hangedup, although with a flavour of the good time hoedown about it. “Imagining Winter” is much darker, and probably the strongest piece of the five. It’s brooding, cold and vaguely threatening, like the soundtrack to an expressionist horror film. “No Response” is the only piece that allows a quiet melancholy to intrude. “Drivin’”, by far the longest track, was written partly in homage to Steve Reich, and it has a slightly harsh, cyclical sound that has echoes of the speed of the road.
Build is a very promising debut. The only criticism I would venture is that McBane does hog the limelight a bit, and it would be good if some of the other players were pushed to the fore more often. Great cover too.
1 In The Backyard 4:08
2 Magnet 4:41
3 No Response 4:43
4 Imagining Winter 6:07
5 Drivin’ 13:42