American violinist Michael Galasso has spent his life finding musical interconnections between styles, genres, idioms and traditions. “High Lines” is his second ECM album and it follows the first, “Scenes”, after a gap of more than 20 years. On “High Lines”, Galasso leads a remarkable band, including Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal at his most outgoing, through pieces that put new perspectives on the meaning of “eclecticism”. This is music that carries an extraordinarily broad range of reference.
In the years before and after “Scenes”, Michael Galasso has most often been a behind-the-scenes man, collaborating with directors, dramatists, choreographers. With “High Lines”, his music once again moves to the centre-stage and stands boldly by itself.
Galasso was born into a musical family in Louisiana, and gave his concert debut at 11 as violin soloist with the New Orleans Philharmonic. Baroque music was one of his very earliest enthusiasms. As a teenager, he ardently followed American modernist composers from Roger Sessions to Walter Piston until an encounter with the iconoclastic John Cage, when Galasso was just 18, changed his musical priorities. Simultaneously, he was absorbing the sounds of rural Louisiana – blues, Cajun, zydeco music. These disparate early influences from Bach to indeterminacy via ‘folk’ forms emboldened him to try and shape his own music and his first steps in improvisation were encouraged by Ellis Marsalis.
In 1972 he headed for Europe where a chance encounter with revolutionary dramatist Robert Wilson changed the work of both men. Galasso was immediately integrated into Wilson’s stage plays as musician, actor and dancer. And he introduced the tradition of continuous music into Wilson’s works. Galasso has written far more music for Wilson than any other composer – starting with “Ouverture” in Paris in 1972 and continuing today with “Peer Gynt”, which premiered on February 19, 2005, in Oslo.
Travel, with and without Wilson’s company, brought Galasso into contact with musicians of many cultures, and in the 1970s he became particularly fascinated by music of the middle east, for a time studying in Iran. These experiences provided a crucial impetus for his writing which has since explored a “melodic and rhythmical synthesis” in which his affinities with Baroque music are intertwined with his American heritage as well as with Iranian and Central Asian traditions.
In brief, no one else sounds like Michael Galasso. Filmmakers have increasingly made use of the range of inflections and sound colours that his music contains. Wong Kar-wai’s “In The Mood For Love” is but one recent and successful example. A few of the pieces on “High Lines” cross-reference music Galasso wrote for Iranian director Babak Payami’s prize-winning film “Secret Ballot” with music he created for Robert Wilson’s 2002 theatrical production of the silent film “The Cabinet of Doktor Caligari”, but everything is changed by the context and especially by the eruptive playing of Terje Rypdal. Galasso: “These pieces start to go in a direction that’s completely new, with this combination of my various violin approaches and Terje’s individuality.”
Rypdal is of course one of the ECM musicians of the first hour, recording steadily for the label since first appearing on Jan Garbarek’s “Afric Pepperbird” 35 years ago. As he noted recently in his retrospective “Selected Recordings” disc in the :rarum series, “My time with ECM is a lifetime by now.”
Producer Manfred Eicher brought Rypdal to the session. Galasso came with two associates of long standing, bassist Marc Marder, an American bassist of broad experience now (like Galasso) resident in Paris and Washington-born, and Puerto Rico-raised percussionist Frank Colón.
Marder worked with the Ensemble InterContemporain under the direction of Pierre Boulez, has played chamber music with Yo-Yo Ma, Gidon Kremer and many others, and also has a reputation as a soundtrack composer in his own right. Colón has played with everyone from Weather Report to Chet Baker via Aretha Franklin, Milton Nascimento and George Clinton.
CD package includes liner notes by Steve Lake, tracing Michael Galasso’s musical history.