Haitian-American composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (otherwise known as DBR) is enjoying considerable success these days, thanks to his unique, experimental style which fuses classical, jazz, electronica, world music, hip hop and other elements of contemporary black popular music. Always on the move with a schedule that would seem to leave little room for composing, DBR frequently collaborates with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, performs as a solo violinist, serves as artist-in-residence and guest lecturer at various institutions, and tours with his band DBR & The Mission, a nine member chamber group comprised of an amplified string quartet, drum kit, keyboards, DJ and laptops. His latest projects include his fifth evening-length solo show “One Loss Plus” for violin, video and chamber ensemble scheduled for a mid-November debut at BAM’s Next Wave Festival; “We March,” a concerto for guitar and orchestra premiered in Denver last March with the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; and “Tuscaloosa Meditations,” commissioned by the University of Alabama to commemorate the “stand in the school house door” incident between Gov. George Wallace and African-American students, which premiered in April.
Etudes4violin&electronix, DBR’s fourth album (and his first release on the Thirsty Ear label), provides an overview of his compositional style. Unfortunately, none of his larger works are represented (no doubt due to monetary issues). Instead, we’re treated to a variety of chamber performances, all featuring DBR on violin (and other instruments ranging from keyboards to keys) in collaboration with various composers, including Philip Glass, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Peter Gordon.
The most interesting tracks on the CD highlight DBR’s electronica leanings, realized through his collaborations with DJ Spooky and DJ Scientific (aka Christian A. Davis). In the opening number, “black man singing,” DBR’s plaintive violin solo soars over a driving beat interspersed with electronic effects and improvisational flute solos contributed by Peter Gordon. The third track, “resonance,” continues the give and take between DJ Spooky’s beats and synth loops. “Fayetteville,” co-written and performed with DJ Scientific, should appeal to a younger generation grounded in electronica. Here DBR’s violin loops around synths, bass and beats in a brief but satisfying quest for dominance (click here to view a live performance of the work at Yale). DBR and DJ Scientific frequently perform together in works such as “Sonata for Violin and Turntable” and “A Civil Rights Reader,” each providing a virtuosic demonstration of the possibilities that exist through the combination of acoustic instruments with turntables, mixers, and laptops.
The remaining tracks on the CD (actually the majority) showcase DBR’s minimalist leanings. Philip Glass provides the piano accompaniment in “Metamorphosis” which comes across as a New Age meditation, though in my opinion DBR’s violin does not have sufficient depth of tone to adequately sustain the melodic line. The two duets with Japanese composer/pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto are the most satisfying. Sakamoto first came to prominence in the 1970s with his Japanese synth techno trio Yellow Magic Orchestra, and later delved into the acid house and techno movements. His piano clusters and minimalist loops provide the perfect backdrop for DBR in the contemplative “The Need to Follow,” while “The Need to Be” offers a shimmering interplay between piano and violin before branching off into extended solos.
Etudes4violin&electronix is highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of technology with classically-oriented music. As DBR states in the liner notes, “I create, arrange, order, modify and amplify varying, separate sonic elements into a unified, meaningful whole.” This album proves that he has reached this goal, stretching the aural landscape in a most satisfying manner which leaves me yearning for an opportunity to experience a live performance.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss