As any improvising musician can tell you, group improv playing cuts at least two ways. Not only do you have to be able to personally build your music from scratch, but you have to be able to listen and build with what others are creating on the fly. The best improvisational musicians are able to cause a bit of confusion– your brain may think there’s a score, but your heart knows better.

Listen to Mike Khoury’s 2006 Rypas Records release “Strings” if you want a good example. “Untitled 1” features Khoury and Gunda Gottschalk‘s violins doing far more than trading lines. Phrases support each other, coagulate, embellish, and (at times) go a long ways towards losing their individual identities. Where Khoury and Gottschalk’s violins diverge, it is with the tension of friends separated.


“Untitled 2,” with Richard Gross and Robyn Siwula, (adding guitar and violin) is the most recently recorded cut on “Strings.” After the duet with Gottschalk, I have to admit that Gross’s guitar seems somewhat unnecessary; it can be hard to remember that these recordings are separated by more than a month. Both Khoury’s and Siwula’s playing are more subdued here; more textural than melodic.

The final cut, “Untitled 3,” is very exciting. Playing with improv turntablist (and former Why Not Jazz? Radio host) Mike Hansen as a duet, Khoury is alternately surrounded with pops and crackle, finds his bow the object of vinyl-scratch mimicry, or is confronted with the pizzicato strings and kettle drum rumbles of an orchestra. At times, it seems as though Khoury’s violin is actually on a record, with Hansen at the controls. Despite being the only studio recording on “Strings,” this track still retains the live flavor, with no studio “tricks” apparent. Amazing!

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