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Delicate musical fabric that emerges from carefully woven threads

Ēriks Miezis

Ella Zīriņa’s trio featuring guest artists releases debut album «Intertwined»

Guitarist and composer Ella Zīriņa introduces herself to a broader audience with her debut album «Intertwined,» released in March of this year. Produced with the support of «BIMHUIS Productions,» the recording features a trio (David MacMahon — double bass, Eloise Pascal Nogu — percussion) and a string quartet (Noah Haslers Forests, Vouters Toringa — violins, Ida Vaidnere — viola, Joshua Hervigs — cello). Saxophonist Tineke Postma also joins the musicians in several tracks.

Regarding the title and the concept of the album, the musician explains that she drew inspiration from Carlos Castaneda’s book «The Teachings of Don Juan,» which describes shamans who, in special states of consciousness, can see the energy fields of people. According to her, these fields resemble threads and intertwined fibers. As beings, thoughts, and life experiences weave together, new textures and fabrics are formed. The album also has an autobiographical inclination, touching on various themes related to the musician’s personal life experiences, such as finding one’s place in society and the musical environment, emotional highs and lows, as well as the search for solace during the summer holidays in her homeland.

The first track of the album, «Intertwining,» could be considered the title track of the entire album, as the album itself is named almost the same (only in a different grammatical form). The opening of the track features an atmospheric sound landscape. Played with a bow, the long sounds and harmonics of the string quartet serve as a background, over which freely and irregularly arpeggiated guitar chords and the timbral shades of slides are layered. The enchanting soundscape of the musicians gives a hint of the harmonies that will later form the main thematic material of the track. After a short pause (a caesura), the rhythmic framework of the track gradually becomes noticeable, with the interplay of bass and drums informing us of its existence.

The main thematic material (clearly discernible in «AAB « form) is played twice with minimal variations. Following the usual logic, improvisations are next to arrive. The guitar solo connects to the previously heard material, maintaining the same form in the improvisational sections as the theme. Listening to the melodic lines makes it possible to follow the changes in harmony. The subsequent double bass improvisation sounds like a duet with the drums. Listeners are given a break from the guitar timbre, which had been omnipresent throughout the track. At the end of the reprise, the concluding section of the track is heard harmonically and in terms of performance, echoing the introduction of the track.

As evident from the title, the composition «More Samba « features the typical rhythm and pulse of the regular samba genre, although with light interpretations. With various touches, the guitar sometimes resonates similarly to percussion instruments (such as congas or bongos), varying the instrument’s timbre. Particularly noteworthy is the subdued, delicate, almost ethereal percussion section. Even when the drum kit anticipates its moment of glory during the solo improvisational passage, these light and airy touches are preserved.

Saxophonist Tineke Postma joins the ensemble for two markedly different compositions. «Seymour Filling The Void « is fundamentally based on a pointillistic aesthetic, with improvisation and rhythmic interplay built on short, fragmented motifs. Some broader melodic space is reserved for improvisations. A similar, rhythmic, and improvisational expression is somewhat felt in the composition «Riff for You. « However, events unfold in a slightly more compact playing field — in a triple meter.

Postma’s presence is felt again in the song «Learn, Know, See,» which, in my opinion, stands out as the most powerful composition of the entire album. In composing this piece, Zīriņa has managed to find successful combinations of expressive elements and has not hesitated to use a couple of clichéd techniques (such as an introduction based on three chords and an «A « section) to make the song «catchier. « By balancing all of this in the right proportions, the music has acquired qualities that create a desire to capture and preserve the song for future listening sessions. Listening to the song, pleasing episodes are encountered at every step. Especially noteworthy is the melody, which is sufficiently dynamic and rich in intonational content, allowing it to sound robustly even without accompaniment if needed. Among clever harmonic solutions, one can also hear the relatively rare frigid chord with a raised sixth degree — one of the many harmonies found in jazz music, which is very colorful and beautiful but not always easy to fit in — applause to Zīriņa for nailing it. An essential arrangement element is also the string quartet, which proves itself at the beginning of the composition and during the saxophone improvisation section with delicate and lively pizzicato notes as an accompaniment. Equally bright, the strings reveal themselves in the piece «Midsummer Visions. « Suppose any listener has a question before listening as to why a string quartet was added to the trio. In that case, I recommend listening to these two compositions, and the answer to the question will likely become apparent.

The subsequent composition, «L.K.S. Reprise,» is like an afterthought, an addition to the previously heard song. The title of the sound file also hints at this when, after a brief pause, one manages to decipher the abbreviation consisting of three letters. I assume that it is an idea that arose in the composition process, a parallel concept that failed to find a place in the arrangement of the composition but is valuable enough to be included in the album. After listening to it multiple times, I understood that, although this small piece was intended as an addition to be listened to after the song has finished, it functions just as well as an alternative introduction to the song or even as a separate composition.

«Waiting For Something That Will Never Happen « is characterized by a conversation-style introduction between the guitar and bass – the musicians initially play phrases alternately and later come together in a collective ensemble. Following this, drums join with a rhythmically structured framework based on the backbeat often heard in rock music.

In the concluding part of the album, Zīriņa showcases her connection with jazz and its rich traditions as one of the main sources of her creative inspiration. She presents herself in various disciplines – a guitar solo performance (without accompanying instruments) and a pure, classical trio format (without the string quartet). The debut album includes original compositions, and her interpretations of an aria from George Gershwin’s opera «Porgy and Bess,» as well as Billy Strayhorn’s «A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing» The album concludes with James Shelton’s composition «Lilac Wine,» the listening experience ends with a mood almost identical to the one heard at the beginning of the CD.

Although Ella Zīriņa is currently less known to the Latvian audience, she is steadily gaining a more visible place on the international stage. For those who want to learn more about Zīriņa’s personality, I recommend listening to the podcast by German pianist and composer Pablo Held, where the artist is interviewed for over an hour. It’s worth noting that Held regularly features world-class artists in his list of interviewees, and having a musician from Latvia on that list is a special honor and achievement for Latvian music culture as a whole.

It is evident that in this recording session, Zīriņa has endeavored to be as authentic as possible. The delicately nuanced and attentive sound creates a sense of harmonic order. Zīriņa has managed to maintain brightness without affectation or exaggeration, and there is no apparent deliberate imitation or overly strong influence from another artist. In her musical vision, Zīriņa prefers nuanced emotional expression over self-serving virtuosity, motoric drive, or competitive spirit. I wish the musician continued exploring new means of expression and developing her already distinctive voice.