Review-Jan Vogler & The Knights, Experience: Live From New York

The Knights
NMZ Online

"Dmitri Shostakovich spent a lot of his life and creative period in angst. Stalin's henchmen kept harassing him and the dictator disapproved of him further more after attending the opera "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" in the Pravda ("chaos instead of music"). The composer, born 1906 in St. Petersburg, allegedly escaped his deportation and probable death only by luck. On the same list, the KGB officer was killed the day off Shostakovich's pick up. That's how the oppressed creator of haunting masterpieces survived until he died of a heart attack in 1975 in Moscow.

Jimi Hendrix wasn't so lucky. The guitarist/singer was born 1942 in Seattle, USA (possibly the freest country in the world at the time). He couldn't resist the temptations of drugs and the fast lane. He died with only 27 years in September 1970 after a concert in London in his hotel room, suffocating on his own vomit.

Similarities? Though KPdSU member and affiliated with numerous state awards, Shostakovich was persecuted by the KGB. Hendrix, not a political artist at all, was wanted by the CIA and FBI due to his "lifestyle" and primarily for his open antagonism of the Vietnam War (by the way, still classified information to date). Above all, they are both highly regarded artist-personalities of the last century. Setting cornerstones in their own fields, they will be remembered forever.

In spring 2009, for the first time both mavericks of the 20th century are united together on a CD. Apart from a risky biographical comparison, the somewhat surprising match has its justification in the music. Premiered in 1960, Shostakovich's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 107, ends similarly in bizarre rhythms, permeating throughout Hendrix's "Machine Gun" from 1970. Acknowledging that, Cellist Jan Vogler dares to transcribe the virtuosic guitar part for his 1721 Montagnana-instrument. He combines both rather coincidental works with the famous waltzes of Shostakovich's "Jazz Suites", two film music pieces. Arranging the Russian-melancholic waltzes, Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin (born in 1978), also fittingly composed the remaining piece "Garmoshka". The gun volleyed Hendrix song for cello and orchestra was arranged by guitarist and film-composer Kyle Sanna.

What kind of orchestra? "The Knights", the musical warriors of New York! They are still unknown throughout Europe, but in the US already one of the leading ensembles. They are not only entrenched in classical music, but equally home playing world music and jazz. In May "The Knights" are going to open the Dresdner Musikfestspiele, whose new music director is Jan Vogler (by the way, what coincidence, the motto is "New Worlds"). Born in 1964 he grew up in a very musical family in East Berlin. The artist now divides his living between New York and Dresden. At age 20 he became the music director of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden and also started his freelancing career. This CD has been recorded at a historic place during two concerts. The newly opened "Le Poisson Rouge", former "Village Gate", is the same venue that Jimi Hendrix gave numerous performances at.

As if the spirit of this site blew onto the CD with the relating title "Experience: Live From New York", the frenetic applause and especially the refreshing playfulness of the young musicians of "The Knights" under Eric Jacobsen enliven this record. The soloist Jan Vogler proves to be virtually a singer. He steers his instrument through lyrically emotional passages of the waltzes without falling into a Viennese bliss. He enthrallingly conquers the cello concerto, the centerpiece on this album. Totally passionate without forfeiting virtuosity, it is perfection with liveliness throughout.

The downright brutally grooving "Machine Gun" ends the almost 10 minutes long tail end. The orchestra and soloist don't alienate themselves, rather shetting rock music history newly into today's light. Demanding Hendrix's guitar part on a baroque string instrument, he goes out all the way. Categorizing them crossover music would only restrict to describe this project."

Evaluation: 5 out of 5 points