Passion aplenty in an album powered by conviction

Layale Chaker (violin) Ethel: Vigil

The Strad Issue: July 2024

Description: Passion aplenty in an album powered by conviction

Musicians: Layale Chaker (violin) Ethel

Catalogue number: IN A CIRCLE RECORDS ICR030

If Radio Afloat (reviewed here) showcases her pioneering jazz credentials, Vigil presents violinist and composer Layale Chaker’s classical creativity – and she’s an ever more prominent artist in these fields, having played with ensembles including the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, not to mention the recent premiere of her opera Ruinous Gods in Spoleto. Vigil, however, is very much a collaboration with New York-based new music quartet Ethel. Not only does Chaker join the Ethel foursome to create a new quintet, but each member of the quartet also contributes a piece to the disc (while Chaker offers two).

The large-scale, five-movement work by Chaker that gives the disc its title also sums up the release’s overarching theme: of righteous anger in the face of climate chaos, forced movement of people, bigotry and violence. Chaker nonetheless manages to combine fury with lyricism, from the nightmare imagery and wailing sirens of the second movement to her almost sobbing solo in the fourth. Ethel manages a miraculous blend of vivid sonic storytelling with precision and passion, playing with a sense of deep conviction that makes Chaker’s music all the more powerful.

The Ethel players’ own pieces are very varied, from the pseudo-folk fiddling of violinist Kip Jones’s strongly projected Teen Mania to the unsettling, Crumb-like soundscapes of cellist Dorothy Lawson’s The Demon Within. After the slinky sophistication of Chaker’s arrangement of Sayyid Darwish’s Salla Fina Llahdu, the propulsive Balkan-style rhythms of Ethel violinist Corin Lee’s Sketka bring the disc to a raw and pungent close.