Streaming, especially on non-conventional platforms like YouTube, has become the dominant mode for disseminating music in 2019. With decades of recordings of centuries of music at our fingertips, musicians have access to a seemingly infinite wellspring of inspiration. So why does more of their work not reflect that? Why not make music that truly synthesizes traditions rather than simply flirting with them?
On pianist and accordionist Simone Baron’s debut album The Space Between Disguises, a Mahler-esque string quartet fades into a Chopinian piano étude that explodes into a pizzicato dervish-folk dance that morphs into a ruminative postbop piano trio that dips into vivacious rumba. And that’s just what happens in the first, five-minute track.
Yes, stacking musical ideas alone does not make one novel or gifted. But Baron and her ensemble Arco Belo stitch all the pieces together like an expert hip-hop producer, cross-fading strains of art and folk music traditions from across the U.S. and Europe. Hear how, in the two-minute marathon of “Who Cares,” a sprightly Appalachian melody on the banjo intertwines with the pastoral folk sound of Baron’s accordion, spirited along by a bubbly tabla. That kind of intricate synthesizing work—as any observer of the late, great producer J Dilla could tell you—comes from deep, borderline-obsessive knowledge of all the related material.
Baron is never the dominating or leading instrumental voice here, but she always finds ways of adding her voice that lifts those of the others around her (like a producer). On the title track she does this with her piano, letting the ivories twinkle under the aching lyricism of the string quartet before anchoring bassist Michael Pope’s singing solo—the most straight-ahead moment on the record—with unhurried strolling up and down the keyboard. It’s egoless, genre-agnostic, and without expectations; it’s the sound of the future, today.
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