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Martin Arnold - Stain Ballads [Another Timbre - 2021]

Stain Ballads brings together four modern chamber works by Toronto-based composer Martin Arnold. The compositions here are all played by the highly respected modern ensemble the Apartment House- with the tracks moving between glum angularity, shrill-to-fiddling unease, and sombrely sawing sour-ness.

So, a little bit about Mr Arnold- Between 1981- 82 he studied at the University of Alberta, moving in 1982-83 to be a guest student at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague . In 1995 he completed his PhD at the University of Victoria, and shortly after this started composing work- though it wasn’t until the early 2010’s his work was released- with to date around five release to his name. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist playing  guitar, banjo, melodica and live electronic playing in projects such as Ryan Driver Quintet.
 
The four works here date from between the years 1999 and 2017, with each having runtimes going from twelve to twenty-two minutes. The album opens with "Lutra"- this features cello and humming, and it’s built around a slowly seesawing structure of forking melancholia, bleakly warbling harmonics, and grating forlornness. The title track features cello, violins, a piano, a viola, a reed organ and percussion- and it’s a wonderful disorientating and unbalancing blend of pluck, dart, saw, and percussive pop ‘n’ fiddle.
 
The longest track here is 2017’s "Trousers"- it’s for cello and violin, and it finds the two instruments nicely rounding and circling each other, with a rewarding mix of angular fraught-ness, almost harmonic waver, sawing atmospheric. With hints in the sound of both slurred/ barren bluegrass, scrambling almost eastern hovering, and dusty wound-down waltz music. The album is finished off with the oldest composition here, and this is 1999’s "Slip"- it's for cello, violin, bass clarinet, and piano. And it has an almost sort lumbering jaunting-ness about it, as the string seesaw with dartingly piping bass horn, and plodding key clusters.
 

As an album Stain Ballads works best when the compositions featuring counterbalances between glum and sawing. There’s no doubt Arnold has a fairly distractive sound, and a recognisable way of doing things- and it’s great to see him putting out work on Another Timbre- let's hope there’s more in the pipeline!.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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