Cellist Maya Beiser Reinvents Art-Rock and Metal Classics

by delarue

There’s a little cello metal on Maya Beiser‘s new album Uncovered (streaming online), but most of it is art-rock. Beiser has made a name for herself in the classical and avant garde worlds; this time out, she plays gorgeously reinvented, sometimes ethereal, often otherworldly covers of well-known FM radio rock and blues songs. The new arrangements by Band on a Can All-Stars clarinetist Evan Ziporyn are magical, enabling Beiser to become a one-woman orchestra via lushly layered multitracks, occasionally backed by simple, emphatic bass and drums. She’s playing the album release show at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM; advance tix are $15 and worth it.

Other than a coy vocal come-on early in the album’s opening track, Led Zep’s Black Dog, the rest of the album is all instrumental. With the other Zep cover, Kashmir, it’s ironic that since Beiser goes easy on the bombast and heavy on the poignancy, the moody faux Egyptian bridge doesn’t carry the impact it does on the original. And where Beiser swoops and dives through Black Dog, she follows a steadily rocketing trajectory through the album’s heaviest number, Back in Black, up to a crescendo that’s just as funny if completely different from the AC/DC version.

There are also a trio of blues tunes. Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ at Midnight gets a hypnotically atmospheric, darkly otherworldly treatment. A remake of Muddy Waters’ Louisiana Blues is much the same but more rhythmic. And Beiser does Summertime as a dirgey, atmospheric waltz, using the Janis Joplin version as a stepping-off point.

But the real gems here are the art-rock songs. Beiser plays the famous series of chords that open Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing with an unexpected, striking fluidity instead of the punchiness you might expect; later on, she fires off a solo that brings to mind ELO’s Hugh McDowell. The high point of the album is the King Crimson classic Epitaph, a vividly elegaic take featuring Ziporyn’s bass clarinet doing a marvelous mellotron impersonation, Beiser substituting a long, loopy, ominously ambient outro in lieu of Michael Giles’ symphonic drumming on the original. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here gets much the same treatment, but in reverse: atmospherics to open it, and then an artful cut-and-paste of the song’s central riffs in lieu of the slow segue into Shine on You Crazy Diamond. There’s also a Nirvana cover: Beiser and Ziporyn give it all they’ve got, but ultimately they’re stuck with a tune that never rises above peevishness. Beiser isn’t the first cellist to cover radio rock and metal: Rasputina did that on their covers album over a decade ago, and then there’s Apocalyptica, but this is even better.

People who like this album also ought to check out Sybarite5‘s similarly outside-the-box, playful album of Radiohead songs arranged for string quintet.