Andrew Cronshaw has a long, deep history with music, most especially as a virtuoso on different kinds of zithers, and exploring the possibilities of sound they offer, whether as a solo artist working with some others, or as part of the group SANS. This new release features him literally alone, although the zithers of the title actually number just two, a vintage, electrified 74-string model and something his own invention, the marovantele, which marries the Finnish kantele to the Malagasy box zither known as the marovany.
The album, so typical of Cronshaw’s work, is impeccably constructed. It carries the listener along, and that makes the track sequencing particularly important. You need to set the time aside to experience the entire disc in a long, deep listen to appreciate it properly. That said, there are some points of particular beauty that rise throughout. The opener, “The Year That’s Awa’,” for instance, sets the tone with its crystalline tone, like drops of water falling into a clear pool, the ripples slowly spreading.
There’s quite a bit of Celtic music here, tunes that are close to his soul, the melodies often heartbreaking, and a few Finnish pieces – his other great love - plus a touch of Iberia. But it’s when Cronshaw steps outside those that things become very curious.
“Variations On ‘Lucy Wan’” takes steps into jagged darkness. The traditional song deals with incest and death, nothing bright and breezy in there, and by charting paths around the melody, Cronshaw is able to walk deep into the shadows and dissonance. After the spare elegance of what’s come before, it’s quite disconcerting. Yet it’s nothing new for Cronshaw; he’s taken an outside look at English folk songs before – including “Lucy Wan” - on his wonderful Ochre disc. But this takes the tune to places he’d never wandered with it before.
The big track, though, is “Sea-Ice.” It’s an original soundscape that conjures up the title, creaking, sometimes blasted, often caught in a hard winter stillness thanks to the magic of effects. It’s perhaps as far from traditional music as it’s possible to travel, and yet it all fits seamlessly as part of this, before the album closes with the open arms of “Anthem (“Grant Me Kind Heaven”).”
There’s a very blurred line that separates performance from art. But Cronshaw’s music has always been on the art side. It’s made for its own sake, because it’s there inside, not as any commercial product. That’s true of plenty of people, of course. But he’s always pushed himself, looked for something new that fits and makes sense in the context of his passions and his playing. Perhaps his experience as one member of a band has caused him to re-assess the way he approaches music, but this is more considered than much of his previous work. Notes hang, suspended, and it becomes an album that’s often breathless in its loveliness.
Oh, and do read the sleeve notes; they an important part of the whole, offer both background and context for the work. But whatever you do, make room for this. In times like this, it will soothe your soul. – Chris Nickson
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Photos by and ©2020 Andrew Cronshaw
Read about more music by Andrew Cronshaw
The Unbroken Surface of Snow
SANS - Kulku