Cellist Kristina Reiko Cooper has been featured on several discs as a member of the duo (really a trio, as pianist John Novacek usually joins in) Kristina and Laura with violinist Laura Frautschi and was a member of Quartetto Gelato for a time and has worked with ensembles ranging from New York's Continuum to the Whitman String Quartet. Linus Records' Stone and Steel is Cooper's first solo outing, where she is rejoined by Novacek and further abetted by percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and arrangers Patrick Zimmerli and Kenji Bunch. Of course, Bunch is noted as arranger/composer of some of the more popularly oriented fare lately propagated -- to much grumbling and gnashing of teeth from classical music critics -- by the Ahn Trio. In this case, such the teeth gnashing would tend to drown out what a lovely, singing tone; sense of phrasing; and dedication Cooper achieves throughout this Linus disc. Novacek keeps a consistently jazzy bag going throughout, and Takeishi is a superb and very creative percussionist, finding just the right sound with the right force to accent at the right time and laying out when he isn't needed. Actually, Bunch only contributes two rather restrained pieces to the disc, and Zimmerli's Dido's Lament (after Purcell) sounds almost more like Bunch than Bunch's own pieces here do; Crawlspace has a rocking, bluesy feel not generally characteristic of his work with the Ahn Trio.
The disc is recorded with pop production values; it is very loud, in your face, and alive. While some may feel that Stone and Steel might go over the top, in some respects, parts of it might not go quite far enough. At one point, the trio achieves a strong and exciting groove during Cooper's solo in George Whitehead's Allemand and it might've been fun to hang there a little longer, but the arrangement takes the trio off the chase. Some additional Martin Denny-style exotica and atmosphere might have been a nice addition to Hide Those Eyes; perhaps another overdub from Takeishi would have done the trick. Stone and Steel is, nevertheless, a disc that will be wonderful to inspire young cellists and will likely prove entertaining to an audience far greater than welcomed the Artur Schnabel string quartets Cooper recorded as a member of the Whitman; it also ably transmits what a terrific performer Cooper might be in person. Kristina Reiko Cooper has more than paid her debt to the cause of serious and seriously considered music. If Stone and Steel is her way of letting her hair down, then who are we to judge?