Sophomore effort from small instrumental unit with intrepid aspiration to grasp the grand scheme of things.
It doesn’t sound overtly experimental, what cello player Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson and pianist Terry Winn do – because their arrangements can’t be too sophisticated and their choice of repertoire can’t be too unusual, right? – yet cast another aural glance at what the pair come up with, given those self-imposed limits, and a good dose of awe would feel unavoidable. If their text=’debut’] was impressive enough in its handling of mostly classical material, this one goes much, much farther, boldly venturing from darkness to light and from nostalgic pastorale to urbanite present. Measuring imagination doesn’t come easy, although there’s progress to behold in the duo’s detailing of familiar pieces.
While true to Francis Poulenc’s lyrical mélodie, the little ensemble’s take on “Hôtel” adds cinematographic eeriness to the record’s short intro before they go on a protracted monochrome trip of the titular suite, artfully deconstructing Gershwin’s gracious stroll along the way. Of course, Richard Rogers’ “It Never Entered My Mind” may seem too elegiac and Puccini’s “Moderatamente” too somber in their reading, but Morricone’s “The Lady Caliph” gets the exquisite chamber treatment, and “Romanza” captures the essence of Mozart’s concertos by enriching his ivories passages with strings. More so, all of it must prompt the listener to dig out this music’s sources, turning the players’ past as teachers into a newly accomplished task.
They shine the brightest on the cellist’s own “JMJ Suite” whose eight parts pay homage to a variety of his influences, including a slowed-down delivery of THE WHO’s “See Me, Feel Me” and a jazzed-up version of “Star Trek Anthem” that counterbalance original compositions. Among these, fresh cuts of “Chimera” and “A Soft Message To You” from the duo’s first album make an appearance, yet the tastiest bits of the 20-minute potpourri are “Meritage Estate” and “Vesper For Janelle” – two vibrant reveries which bring home the artists’ initial promise to render their oeuvre riveting. They’re almost there now.