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Concetta Abbate: Falling in Time
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/18/2015)
There has been an interesting mini-trend of classically-trained musicians and composers entering the field of singer-songwriters, bringing a distinctive approach usually involving some instrumentation from the classical world, especially strings. In the past couple of years we have featured a number of such records by artists including Christopher Bell, Gabriel Kahane, My Brightest Diamond and Laura Cortese. This week we have another interesting such album. It’s by New York area based violinist and singer-songwriter Concetta Abbate, and it’s called Falling in Time.
Concetta Abbate is the daughter of two musicians. Her mother Darlene Abbatte is also a violinist, her father Anthony Abbate is an electric bassist who was in the 1970s disco band Positive Proof. She started music instruction at age 4 in violin, but studying anthropology at Smith College, she became interested in folk music. She began creating her own music based on influences ranging from standard folk to ethnic poetry, and as her bio describes it, “natural science.” She has been a member of a Latin fusion group called Inti and the Moon, and also maintains a classical performance schedule as well as doing artist-in-residence programs including one in Europe. She currently teaches in a one-room schoolhouse in Brooklyn called Still Waters in a Storm, and is pursuing her graduate degree at Columbia University.
Falling in Time is Ms. Abbate’s third release, including the Inti and the Moon album. She subtitles the new album “Pocket-sized Songs,” and indeed several are quite short little musical sketches. Her interest in ambient sound is reflected in the album, with bits of non musical sounds, some everyday, and some rather eerie following most of the tracks. In the latter category is a wind harp which was built for her. In her liner notes, she describes her album as “an exploration of poetry and soundscapes through music. These pocket sized vignettes make up a song cycle which moves in and our of genre.” Instrumentally, there is a string quartet, with three other string players joining Ms. Abbate, along with guitar, piano, bass and drums. Ms. Abbate plays some harp, a music box and a South American instrument called a charango, which resembles a mandolin in sound. It also sounds as if Ms. Abbate is strumming her violin at times like a guitar.
The music ranges from folky to jazz-influenced to slightly esoteric pieces that weave distinctive sounds into Ms.Abbate’s lyrical poetry, separated by the intervals of natural sound, which for me, most of the time, does not contribute a lot to the record. There are 14 tracks in all, some as short as a minute and a half. It definitely ends up sounding like an “arty” record, in the best sense.
The CD opens with its title track Falling in Time which is representative of the eclectic sound of the album. Ms. Abbate sings first with her pizzicato violin and then with a string trio. <<>>
After a bit of natural sound <<>> that leads into a piece called Burst whose musical backdrop is rather unsettling sonic ambiance, later joined by string instruments. <<>>
One of the most appealing tunes is a jazzy piece called Fish but it’s one of those short vignettes at under two minutes. <<>>
Another of the stronger, and perhaps more musically conventional tracks is Firefly which nicely mixes the singer-songwriter aspect of the record with the string quartet. <<>>
Likewise featuring somewhat a more conventional approach is Sun Song. It’s an attractive but quite short piece in waltz time. Still it has some interesting ingredients. <<>>
Ms. Abbate’s background in doing Latin-American music is apparent on Tonada al Tiempo sung in Spanish and accompanied by the South American charango instrument. <<>>
The longest piece on the album involves a lot of the ambient sounds. Cave of Stars features a lot of the wind harp while Ms. Abbate sings. It definitely has a rather exotic sound <<>> but after the vocal segment, the wind harp goes on for far too long. <<>>
For me, one of the most appealing tracks is Elements which again features more familiar instrumentation, in this case more Latin American influence. <<>>
Concetta Abbate’s new release Falling In Time is an interesting, somewhat unconventional but ultimately quite appealing recording that, as she calls it, is a series of short musical vignettes, created and performed by an artist whose musical background is in classical violin and ethnic folk music. The instrumentation used reflects that, while the material consists of 14 generally short pieces with a nice variety of moods and sounds. She notes the use of ambient sounds on the record, but for my own taste, with the possible exception of the eerie wind harp, we could get along without them. With all the sonic interest, lyrically the album is also engaging and will reward multiple listenings. Her musical colleagues are a compatible group, some of whom she regularly works with in other ensembles, including the producer Ember Schrag, a singer-songwriter with whom Ms. Abbate has played and recorded.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The acoustic instruments and vocals are fairly well-recorded and have decent clarity but lack a little of the sparkle of some of the better such recordings. The dynamic range, how much the recording maintains the difference between loud and soft passages, is above average for a pop record, but still could be better for this kind of mainly acoustic project.
Far from being musically conventional or traditional sounding, a generation of musicians who are approaching the singer-songwriter genre from a classical background and with orchestral instruments are making distinctive and creative music. Concetta Abbate, on her new album is a fine example.
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