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Julia Kent – Green and Grey

Tin Angel

Green and grey, the grass and the concrete, the juxtaposition between the natural world and the man-made built environment that must now co-exist with it, ideally in harmony, yet in practice all too often in conflict. Across the 11 tracks contained within, New York-based Canadian cellist Julia Kent builds a beautiful tone poem in which to explore the tensions inherent in humanity’s relationship with the world around us. A musical Koyannisqatsi, Kent plays here unaccompanied, using only her cello, sampled and layered into beautiful organic waves, alongside some subtle electronics and field recordings of natural sounds such as water, weather and the familiar, yet to mammalian ears utterly alien, drone of the insect kingdom.

Throughout her mournful meditation on the balance of the organic and the constructed, Kent steers by a careful mix of reference points, treading the fine line where the natural and the mythic intersect, the stars in the firmament, the astrological alignments, the tragic figures of Greek myth. Setting sail under the star cluster of “Pleiades,” Green and Grey, moves through the eleventh sign of “Acquario,” past the shining doors of the room wherein lies “Tithonos” – the feeble, babbling Trojan forced into perpetual old age by an ill-thought through request to Zeus for immortality – past the huge “Twombly” abstractions that adorn the walls of our celestial passage towards a slow awakening at the end.

Using the full palate of textures available from her instrument, from delicate pizzicato to full-bowed growl, Kent pirouettes lightly between genres, often going gracefully across that strange landscape of classical and post-rock that Rachel Grimes so boldly and so deftly explored. At other points you might lean over a pool of water and see the face of Hildur Gudnadottir, or even Ben Allison, magically reflected in its quicksilver surface. Dolly back, fade to black, and one might also see David Lynch, hunched over his Steenbeck, his quiff just visible through the clouds of swirling cigarette smoke, layering some Green and Grey tracks in over a scene from his latest virtuoso cinematic creation.

Having worked alongside Anthony Hegarty, Rufus Wainwright and esprit fort Michael Gira, Kent has provided her prodigious skills at the cello to a variety of musical landscapes. Given these involvements, especially the musical tutelage that must have been gained through association with Gira, the only criticism of Green and Grey is, therefore, that it possibly lacks a sufficiently broad range of modulations. Throughout the album the mood is more or less continuous, and perhaps misses the occasional variation in dynamics; if Kent is indeed concerned at the dangers of homo sapiens befouling their environment, then anger should both form part of the emotional palette in reaction to that, and therefore inform the musical trajectory of Green and Grey. On “A Spire” Kent comes close to hinting at an aggression that lies beneath, but it would serve the album well if she surrendered to it, even if only briefly, and made it more demonstrable.

These are, however, minor quibbles. Green and Grey is a beautiful album, and one that in this age of ersatz unit shifters and careerist posturings stands out as a deeply personal and committed work by a highly talented musician. Given her musical connections, it would have been easy for Kent to have produced a (second) solo album emblazoned with puff-piece endorsements and “Featuring…” stickers boasting the highly credible – and saleable – names mentioned above. That she has chosen to work alone, with only the cicadas and the wind for company, speaks highly of her integrity, and bodes well for the albums that will hopefully follow this one.

-David Solomons-

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