Rosalie Kaplan has carved out a niche for herself as one of New York’s most distinctive and arresting voices, reinventing 19th and 20th century classical songs with her improvisational band Dollshot. Her latest album is a duo project with adventurous guitarist Marco Cappelli, a new interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s Songs from the Chinese.
As you might expect from these two, the versions of these songs are a lot more dynamic than the all-acoustic guitar-and-voice arrangements devised by the composer, although they stick to the originals’ brevity: only a couple of them exceed the two-minute mark. Cappelli’s insistent, clustering classical guitar mimics Kaplan’s vocals on the first song, The Big Chariot. Her careful articulation – “Don’t help on the big chariot…don’t think about the sorrows of the world” – rises breathtakingly as the song winds out. Although the melody has a rustic quality, Cappelli’s spacious electric guitar on The Old Lute lingers much like Bill Frisell’s did on his collaboration with Elvis Costello, Deep Dead Blue, particularly as he exchanges phrases with Kaplan. Her nonchalance and penetrating, soaring top end makes The Autumn Wind all the more sinister, Cappelli’s distorted phrases lingering as the vocals fall away gently.
Cappelli returns to classical guitar on The Herd Boy, Kaplan’s deadpan, suspenseful vocals adding to the narrative’s mysterious ambience. Depression pairs Kaplan’s full-blown angst against Cappelli’s animatedly surreal slide guitar work, while the miniature Dance Song has both the guitar and the vocals doing some eerie glissandos; it’s the most downtown-jazz oriented of the songs here.
Kaplan and Dollshot – with pianist Wes Matthews, saxophonist Noah Kaplan, bassist Peter Bitenc and drummer Mike Pride- play Shapeshifter Lab at 10 PM on March 4; cover is $10.