Hudson Opera House
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – With only three members, avant-folk trio Eviyan is an Atlas of an ensemble, holding much of the globe and musical history on its shoulders, and seemingly tossing it around with ease, virtuosity, passion and humor, as was the experience at the Hudson Opera House on Saturday night, April 5.
The trio consists of new-music avatars Iva Bittová on violin and vocals; Gyan Riley on guitar; and Evan Ziporyn on clarinet. Collectively they bring a wealth of experience in classical, folk, avant-garde, ethnic and traditional musics from around the world. What is most stunning about these three forceful composers and virtuosos is how they were able to seamlessly combine their distinctive voices to make them figuratively and literally sing and harmonize with a new voice – that of the trio. And yes, in this case, the sum certainly was greater than the already awesome parts.
How they accomplished this remains something of a wonderful mystery, but the effect was stunning and clearly felt throughout the standing-room-only crowd gathered at the opera house to hear Eviyan’s unique blend of Eastern European folk, Western classical, Asian traditional, jazz and minimalist music.
The music they performed was alternately playful and ecstatic; earthy and beautiful. They opened the evening with “Eviyan Blues,” an original composition that began with Bittová’s rubato vocals singing a kind of lament – perhaps a Moravian shepherd’s lament (Bittová is a native of that part of the Czech Republic) – with Ziporyn’s clarinet answering in a very voice-like call-and-response. Riley laid down a harmonic bed on his acoustic guitar, functioning very much like the hammered dulcimer one might find in a traditional outfit, as Bittová took the tune back and forth between 21st century experimentalism and Old World tradition.
The number slowly morphed into a more steadily rhythmic Gypsy or Flamenco-style number, with Ziporyn and Bittová dancing atop Riley’s percussive chords. Bittová herself sometimes twinned her vocals with her violin, often dancing like a butterfly or cracking musical jokes over the rest of the tune.
Bittová kicked off the following number with vocal flights that could have been bebop saxophone runs, with Ziporyn’s bass clarinet pushing the number along very much like a percussive acoustic bass and Riley comping on guitar-as-piano. Bittová, it must be noted, is a dynamic presence, singing with her hands, face and hair as much as with her voice, using the natural acoustics of the room (she sang without a microphone; she didn’t need one) to vary her tone, even turning around with her back to the audience to create different vocal effects, at one point bouncing her voice against the floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window overlooking Warren Street. Bittová also gave the lie somewhat to Eviyan as a trio – with her voice and violin both wielded as instruments, the group actually functioned mostly as a quartet.
Ziporyn offered a clarinet solo with hints of Asian music – with just a few long, drawn-out drone notes, the music was in the variable tone he gave the notes. Bittová performed a vocal-and-violin solo that conjured up a forest full of birds and peepers. While always conceptually brilliant, the music was always emotional and passionate, and never succumbed to academic sterility, as some experiments tend to do. But not with these three musicians, with their omnivorous musical appetites, their open-minded approach to their instruments, their firm grounding in ethnic and folk traditions, and their obvious joy they share in each other’s musicality.