Step Into The Void – Cello Suites Nos 1-6, BWV 1007-1012
Mike Block (cello)
Bright Shiny Things BSTC-0132 143.07 mins (3 discs)
First, a little background. Mike Block is one of the Silkroad Ensemble’s cellists, a musician who devotes much of his life to cross-cultural collaboration and the teaching of multi-style cello. He’s worked with Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma, and runs a project called BachInTheBathroom in which he plays Bach suites in the bathrooms of famous concert halls. To translate, it’s #BachintheLoo. Respect.
So, to the Suites. They don’t come from said bathroom, but he has used microphones to amplify the sound so they’re pretty rock ‘n’ roll, breezy and punchy, peppered with characterful ornaments which feel natural and bring a personal touch. The playing is at times on the crude side: don’t come here for the most profound C minor Sarabande, monumental D minor Prelude or aerial E major Suite (it’s fairly choppy). His D major, though, has a joyous glister that I found irresistible, some awkward phrasing notwithstanding and an odd lack of repeats.
So where does ‘Step into the Void’ come into it? This is the third disc, an extraordinary mash-up of what feels like Block’s addled memory of Bach, and a live phonographic collage. The effect is that of a bizarre aural kaleidoscope, where fragments of Bach’s suites are tessellated into bluegrass, eerie electronics, a jazz-funk drum machine, or gospel singing, as the ‘phonographer’, DJ-like, syncs speech and recordings into Block’s improvisations. The warp factor is high, some combinations inspired – the D minor Prelude morphing into free-flowing arabesques with Moog synths – some less so. Still, here’s an original talent: I’d go to hear him live. Helen Wallace