Jozef Van Wissem

The Joy That Never Ends

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There are lots of composers out there, and more than a few lutenists, but very few people still alive today who are both, and even fewer who write contemporary music for that ancient instrument. Jozef Van Wissem is one of those very few, and on this album, he plays six original compositions on a 13-course Baroque lute. In the past he has written and performed music for lute and electronics, but here he is accompanied only by the occasional electric guitar of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and the mumbled vocals of Jeanne Madic. The titles of the pieces and the lyrics sung by Madic are taken or adapted from the Revelations of Divine Love of 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, and the music itself tends to be rather minimalist, with lots of repetitive arpeggiated figures, sometimes consisting of overdubbed parts. This is the kind of music that treads a fine line: the longest track at over 16 minutes, "The Hearts of the Daughters Are Returned to Their Mothers" is also the least interesting, despite its attractive layering of lute parts. On the other hand, "The Joy That Never Ends" weaves a lovely tapestry of contrapuntal but harmonically static lines, underneath which Madic seems to be whispering "Tout ira bien" (which would be a French translation of Julian's most famous aphorism, "All shall be well"). "His Is the Ecstasy" is very pretty and would have been even prettier if the lute had been more carefully tuned. The album's final track, "The Great Joy," is the most successful track here, despite also being its most starkly minimalist. On this piece, chords fall in thick, dark dollops leavened by occasional single-line departures that crawl modally along unpredictable melodic paths. The Joy That Never Ends is an uneven pleasure, but a significant one.

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