Thursday, June 28, 2012

Music Notes -- 2CELLOS

I'm guessing that most who do not listen to classical music do not realize how rich and versatile the cello is. Okay, some of you may have felt a little more cultured watching Yo-Yo Ma play behind James Taylor, but that's not quite what I mean.

Some months ago, I heard Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" played by a two cellists named Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, and I was blown away. Not only did they retain the fire of the original, they maintained a verve and intensity that might make those who had not heard Jackson's version think the song was composed just to be played in this sort of ensemble. So it is with some joy I bring you the self-titled album by this group who call themselves, simply enough, 2CELLOS.

The first couple of times through, I was really impressed, as I had been with "Smooth Criminal," with the way these guys play a variety of pop and rock songs. I mean, you have a big range: from U2 to Nirvana to Sting, and each track is enjoyable and interesting. After a couple of listens though, I worried that this project would eventually wear off for me and seem like an interesting gimmick. An album of rock "standards" could get old pretty quick.

Suilic and Hauser of course save themselves with virtuoso playing, but also in their arrangements. Thankfully, tunes like "Welcome to the Jungle," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," and "Misurlou (Theme From Pulp Fiction)" are short (under three minutes). Unless going for some kind of improvisation (a la Brad Mehldau's treatments of Radiohead or The Bad Plus' doing Rush and Blondie), it seems best to stick to solid melodies and hooks from the originals and let the instruments make the magic.

Some of the more interesting tracks here are the more mid-tempo numbers. Jackson's "Human Nature" is really a delight. Repeated listening provides more and more nuances that remind me of how good a tune this is, even without the words (it was also covered by the great Miles Davis). And if you can get the bonus track, "Fields of Gold" is worth the extra bucks."Viva La Vida" is fine, but may barely escape a Muzak label

But my favorites after several times through the project are probably the slower, more emotive numbers. That might seem where the cello sounds most natural as an instrument. But hearing Sting's "Fragile" reminds me of how many beautiful sounds the cello can make in a short space. And the Trent Reznor (and Johnny Cash) favorite "Hurt" is transplendent.

2CELLOS may not be for everyone. But it should be.

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