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Common Ground: High Voltage

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Common Ground is led by Zach Brock and Tom Wright, both violinists who use amplifiers so that they can be better heard over their excellent rhythm section, composed of pianist Jordan Baskin, bassist Mike Arnopol and drummer Tom Hipskind. Unfortunately, the double dose of electrified fiddles on their new album, High Voltage, makes you wonder about the amplified violin as a solo instrument: Its tone is both glossy and raspy, while the acoustic sounds subtler and freer. Delmark’s decision to differentiate between the dueling fiddlers by assigning Brock to the right stereo channel and Wright to the left makes the violins sound a bit boxy, too. It’s not a comfy noise. Nevertheless, once your ears adjust, there’s some intriguing music-making going on.

Though Brock’s “What’s in a Name?” forges ahead with a tense, exciting rhythmic pulse and a sweet melody, most of the successful tracks push the group outside the box: the harmonic riddle of the melody of Wright’s “Half Tone Poem” blossoms into a sustained mysterious atmosphere, while the close intervals prevalent in Brock’s serialism-inspired “The Itch” teeter entertainingly between crabbed melodicism and full-blown dissonance. The cover of George Harrison’s “Within You, Without You” is notable for a Brock solo played backward and forward at the same time-it blew my mind, man! It also grated on my ears, but that’s another matter.