|Do you remember the ad campaign tag line, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile"? Well, Caryn Lin's tolerance for ambiguity is NOT your father's violin album. Wow! This is what independent music is all about. Exciting new directions in music that absolutely defy genre and classification. Of course, that never stops your intrepid reviewer.
This release on the very progressive Alchemy Records label is grounded in Caryn's incredible 5-string electric violin playing. However, throw out any previous notions you have about violin instrumentalists (e.g. Jean Luc-Ponty). The first song, "the call" has a terrific tribal underrhythm over which Caryn's violin positively soars. The song is only midtempo, but it really gets me going. David Torn, who accompanies Caryn on every song, plays so many instruments on this cut I can't list them all, but start with guitars, piano, organ, and assorted percussion and drums. The song is a real pull-out-the-stops display of virtuosity as Caryn weaves her circular melodies over, around, and below this array of other instruments.
The very next song, "In the Abbey of Scartaglen," slows and quiets things down, with Caryn hitting some delicious high notes in an echo-effect manner. The song is not sad, but rather pensive. Compared to the "big" sound of the previous piece, this is comparatively minimalist. Later in the song, the melody takes on a bit of an Irish sound, with very subtle percussion.
This album (like most of what I have heard on Alchemy Records) is an engineer's showcase. The recording FX on this release are pretty unbelievable, and if I read the liner notes correctly, there are no synthesizers here. It's all studio magic with violins, guitars, percussion and loops. Note that this is not an acoustic album though (in fact, far from it).
Caryn has two songs where she sings, "No Lines Drawn" and the closer, "In Cold Blood." Her singing is breathy and is more a vehicle to communicate her lyrics which are well-written in a poetic fashion The rockish rhythms of "no lines drawn" are pretty cool, especially counterpointed with what sounds like an upright bass played with a bow (which, according to the credits, it isn't).
It's not easy to describe Caryn's music, as I said earlier, This is not the most accessible record, for whatever that's worth. "The Little King" is very experimental in structure to my ears, while the electric guitar in "at the risk of the sun" is certainly 'seriously dee-tuned' as Caryn writes in the liner notes. But I love the three-movement suite, "Tolerance For Ambiguity." It has moments of menace, beauty, rage, and mystery. It's a toss-up between this and "The Call" as my favorites on the album.
I want to acknowledge both the graphic design and the liner notes. The CD has some interesting photographic FX with the photos of Caryn. Her self-written liner notes are also a high point, as she reveals quite a lot about what each song's genesis is. Her writing is friendly yet very erudite, without being pretentious.
Look, I can't say that everyone will like "Tolerance For Ambiguity" because it isn't that accessible to mainstream tastes, I suppose. But, even if I didn't like it as much as I do, I'd still be knocked out by the brave and personal nature of the music. With artists like Caryn and labels like Alchemy, there will always be music for those of us who desire something out of the ordinary. -Wind & Wire Magazine