Including a diverse selection of Sicilian cellist Giovanni Sollima's compositions spanning 2000 to 2004, Works is a worthy introduction to the wide range of Sollima's artistry. The album begins with the four-part "Terra" suite, commissioned for a dance performance at the 2001 Venice Biennale and featuring Sollima multi-tracked on at least four cellos, with Maurizio Curcio added on djembe ("Terra Acqua") and on stick bass and sampling ("Terra Fuoco"). The opening "Terra Aria" might be Sollima's best-known piece thanks to Norwegian video artist Lasse Gjertsen's Daydream video, which matches the music to fantastical imagery from expansive skies down to the molecular level, including an introductory sequence in which Sollima sprouts extra arms to play all the parts on a single cello and another in which the viewer glides along a mountain stream in a seamless montage of nearly psychedelic naturalism. As amazing as those visuals are, "Terra Aria" stands on its own here as mesmerizing music. Sollima's foundation of ostinatos holds back from harmonic resolution to achieve maximum tension and release; over this, the cellist plays long vibrato-laden melodic lines that ebb and flow until finally breaking away to join the insistently rhythmic bowed and plucked strings underneath. The folkish tinges and tribal percussive midsection (using only cello, apparently) of "Terra Danza" and the electro-world music flavorings of "Terra Fuoco" are also beautiful in their own right, although "Terra Acqua" sounds like Sollima and Curcio merely having fun with a digital delay unit -- like the more abstract album-closer, "Notte," it's still a good example of Sollima's experimental side.
The album's wide scope is well illustrated by "Zobeide" on one hand and "Inversion Recovery" on the other. The former, an excerpt from Sollima's Viaggio in Italia premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2000 (although this version is a studio recording), features the cellist accompanied by the Lark Quartet in a pulsing chamber music composition highlighted by a pizzicato-accented section of comparatively hushed dynamics; while the latter (from 2004) moves close to -- and even embraces -- rock, with Giovanni Caruso suddenly bursting out on drums and Marco Amico featured prominently on what sounds like amplified tenor guitar. But the album's highlight arrives with one of four excerpts from Sollima's Songs from The Divine Comedy project recorded live at a festival in Fano, Italy, in 2004. "Hell VI -- Conte Ugolino" might be the most attention-grabbing of the four, with wild English-language declamations (presumably from Todd Reynolds), like those of a mad apocalyptic street preacher, giving anguished voice to an Italian count whose soul has been condemned to the Inferno. (The real Count Ugolino was imprisoned in a tower and left to starve with his sons, and a forensically discredited interpretation of The Divine Comedy suggested Ugolino cannibalized their bodies.) This exercise in mad heavy metal chamber rock is nonetheless overshadowed by the ten-minute "La Spera Ottava," which, after an echoed and treated Italian-language voice-over by young Marta Sollima, features the eight-piece Giovanni Sollima Band -- strings, flute, keyboards, electric guitar, and more -- etching an initially understated minimalism around Riccardo Scilipoti's single-note piano figures. As the music gradually builds through recurring cycles, the harmonics suggest slightly troubled undercurrents amidst the unfolding beauty, until the sudden explosion of an impossibly vibrant dance filled with joyous energy. Quite apart from its context in Dante, this music might be heard as representing nothing less than the arc of a life, as the dance ends and the delicate fragility returns, now signaling retreat rather than entry, perhaps even the reflection that comes at life's end rather than the anticipation at its beginning.