Album Remarks & Appraisals:
American Record Guide, July/August 2013
Jazz-inflected interludes, improvisations, and contemporary folk songs are all apt ways to describe portions of Iva Bittova's Fragments. The intimate pieces drag the listener into her world with inflected, Middle Eastern vocals over simple, repetitive motives.
Personnel: Iva Bittová (vocals, violin, kalimba).
Recording information: Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano (02/2012).
Photographer: Pavel Strázay.
Iva Bittová's self-titled album for ECM is almost literally impossible to describe, let alone categorize. For listeners, this is a dream come true in an age when music is chopped and parsed into blurry genres and micro genres -- and to be fully accountable in our descriptor tags accompanying the review, we are equally guilty -- they cannot contain her music. She plays violin (bows, strums, plucks, and gently hammers its strings), kalimba, and sings. The music consists of 12 "fragments," all but one composed by Bittová. While she has always used the folk music of her Moravian culture (stringed instruments) rather than that of Czech culture (brass and percussion), she uses it as a single referential element in an expansive musical world view that includes classical music, avant-garde, and improvisational elements. But she proves too mercurial to be boxed in by any of them. "Fragment I" commences with a kalimba and her voice in something approaching a lullaby, though it contains drama and desire. On "Fragments VII," her vocal reaches, glides, and nearly soars in a haunting, nearly whimsical incantation, but her violin, with its roundness and warmth, gently binds it to the earth. In "Fragments VI," she adapts a melody by composer Joaquin Rodrigo, and combines it with lyrics by Gertrude Stein and Chris Cutler. The piece is performed a cappella; the hint of reverb on her vocal and her intentional rounding of syllables make those lyrics nearly indecipherable. What remains is the simple beauty of pure sound that inhabits the ground between ancient folk music, Byzantine chant, and the open-voiced articulation of the language of the human heart. "Fragments VIII" is driven by her violin, which uses classical, Moravian, and Romany folk traditions. The instrument's vibrations, via her bowed and hammered trills (the latter akin to those of a muted cimbalom) and drones, offer a dirge so mesmerizing and spacious that when her voice enters, haltingly at first, creating a more modern song form, it is almost, but not quite, jarring for a moment before it, too, becomes part of that dreamy equation. The kalimba returns on "Fragments XII." The lullaby theme is again articulated, but syncopated, stretched, and intoned more deeply, sans drama, with only a sense of implied resolution sending the recording off into the silence gently, yet not passively. While there is no doubting the sophisticated musicality in the wonderfully strange and accessibly charming sparseness of this album, ultimately, her "Fragments I-XII" are just as close to the mercurial root of unbridled poetry itself. As such, Iva Bittová is the stuff of enigma. ~ Thom Jurek