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Strong Enough / Barbara Helfgott, Rondo Vienna

Helfgott / Vienna
Release Date: 05/14/2013 
Label:  Preiser Records   Catalog #: 91211  

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

STRONG ENOUGH Barbara Helfgott (vn); Rondo Vienna PREISER 91211 (44:01)

POINTER I’m So Excited. JACKSON Billie Jean. MORODER Flashdance. BETTIS One Moment in Time. FEKARIS I Will Survive. HOWARD Read more Fly Me to the Moon. BERLIN There’s No Business Like Show Business. BARRY Strong Enough. LENNOX Must Be Talking to An Angel. FARRAR You’re the One That I Want. DE NICOLA Time of My Life. MORALI YMCA. ANDERSSON Thank You for the Music

This CD is the latest work released by Austrian violinist Barbara Helfgott and her all-string fusion band, Rondo Vienna. Helfgott’s brand of fusion, however, is different from the American style that got such a bad name among jazz lovers. Yes, it has a disco beat. Yes, these are jazz-fusion arrangements of popular rock/disco tunes (the familiar titles should give that away). But what they are not are stuck-in-the-same-groove, repetitious, uninteresting arrangements replete with whining electric violins and flabby-sounding rock guitars. There is not a single rock guitar on the entire CD, and some of the arrangements are spellbinding, as is Helfgott’s playing.

When one reads Helfgott’s biography on her website, the high quality of her playing and commitment to this music seem far less surprising. She was playing the violin before she could talk, studied with Günter Pichler of the Alban Berg Quartet and worked as concertmaster of several orchestras (among them the Vienna Court Opera and the Neue Oper Wien) before forming Rondo Vienna. Judging from the photos of her in action—including those on her website as well as a YouTube video—Helfgott uses a microphone for her violin but does NOT play an electric instrument nor use a bridge pickup, and neither do the members of Rondo Vienna.

As I said, this is jazz-fusion but with a difference. These arrangements contain a fair amount of counterpoint, cross-rhythms and plenty of improvisation from the leader. Moreover, I found it very interesting that Helfgott maintains a purely classical sound no matter how up-tempo the number. An unnamed singer whose voice sounds remarkably like Irene Cara opens Flashdance , but the notes don’t say whether this was a mix or not. I was less impressed with the ballad-type material, i.e., One Moment in Time , which sounded to my ears too much like easy listening pop and not very inventive in the arrangement. There are also unidentified vocals on I Will Survive (that did not sound like Gloria Gaynor or Donna Summer), Strong Enough, Must Be Talking to an Angel and Thank You for the Music. Fly Me to the Moon is a nicely varied arrangement that unfortunately ends in a pedestrian and predictable manner. There’s No Business Like Show Business has, with the exception of the disco beat, a 1950s-sounding arrangement.

In the end, I came to appreciate Helfgott’s musicianship and her commitment to this music as well as the playing of her band, but did not come to like most of the tunes on this disc because I simply don’t like such simplistic song constructions. If, however, this kind of music is your thing, Strong Enough will surprise you with the high quality of the playing here.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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