Singing jazz violinists: a journey with Johanna Burnheart, Yilian Canizares and Iva Bittova

German-born Johanna Burnheart and Cuban-born Yilian Canizares are two jazz violinists who sing along with their strokes, a whiley combination of both visual and audio sensations that have been pleasing their audiences far and wide. Czeck violin folklorist and vocal improviser, Iva Bittova, wows audiences with imaginative tones, textures, and temperaments mixed with many musical genres. Listening to their offerings makes for a dizzying journey in sound and emotion.

Techno Meets Improvisation ala London Scene

Johanna Burnheart’s childhood classical training in violin allowed her to tour European countries with an orchestra, honing her musical skills to make her eligible for further training in her native Berlin. There, she fused its techno club and house sounds with the electronic scene which explains how she has approached her instrument using jazz improvisation. Her musical influences have come more from horn players, singers and the mix of jazz and electronics, all which lead her to join the London jazz scene. London and Berlin remain her chosen havens for composing and performing with other notables in the electro-jazz milieu. Her debut album, simply titled Burnheart, contains 8 tracks with Burnheart also on synthesizer, David Swan on Wurlitzer/synthesizer, Jonny Wickham on double bass, and Boz Martin-Jones on drums/shaker.

The album is an exciting mix of rhythm, percussion, rings and bells, and soft electronica, all overlaid with an expressive violin that skillfully complements with syncopation: in ‘Mensch’ with a bit of wailing and sad, discordant questioning. Emotion exudes with a nervous violin, off-key at times, overlapping textures between the synthesizer, drum wisps, and double bass. This is a beautifully constructed piece. In ‘Forever Dance’, the syncopation between violin, bass and synthesizer runs create a bouncy, danceable samba feel. Her voice overs harmonize mournfully in an interesting re-arrangement of the classic Jay Livingston’s, ‘Never Let Me Go’. She scats in ‘Silence is Golden’ along with syncopated rhythms between voice, clapping and percussion. This song is full of different textures, electronic whistles and calls, like the rest of the album which is sure to please.

Its upcoming launch on October 30 on social media platforms is on November 30 at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Stellar performances can be viewed on YouTube videos, recommended for getting a better taste of what this young up and coming musician is producing in the London world of musical fusions. At the Ropeadope Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj7dxf2zNw0&feature=emb_logo

Plucking violin and scatting with singer, Appolonie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHOPwcrUv18

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Modern Pride Calls out African Ancestry

Hailed as one of the impressive virtuosos from Cuba, violinist/singer/composer Yilian Cañizares brings zest and sonic modernity to a content-laden album that reflects her pride in her African ancestry. Now a Swiss citizen, her roots remain strong, as portrayed in her November 2019 released album, Erzulie.

Erzulie, the goddess of love, came to Canizares in a dream and steered her spirit to produce music that honoured her Haitian/African/Cuban heritage. She evokes the legacy of ‘Cimarron’, the runaway slave, while acknowledging the oneness of the human and divine that runs in her veins. The album pulls the listener into her story of African survival, from suffrage to liberation in colonial worlds. She seems to look at contradictions between slave and European culture in ‘Contradicciones’ which starts off with a distinct Gaelic dance rhythm and moves into a bluesy query with African percussive beats. Spirit whispers pervade her piece, ‘Erzulie’, as Canizares adopts a contemplative tone in her vocals which are multiplied. Perhaps she is receiving the message.

Her violin is earthy and often slides into an electronic rock style, like in ‘Cimarron’, a fast paced percussive piece where Canizares’s scat holds the rhythm with African overtones as she honours the slave longings for freedom. A rock guitar is heard in the background. ‘Gloria mia’ evokes a spiritual tone with soft slow vocals with a meditative Cuban percussion sound.

The song tracks seem to move into a celebratory mood in ‘Libertad’ with highly effusive and happy vocals, spoken word, and fast percussion as freedom is announced, followed by ‘Yeye’ which speaks for itself. Canizares has crafted an emotionally pleasing but truthful musical story about her realities, both with her vocals and lyrics, which predominate on the album, and her violin which seems to play a supportive backdrop. Even the master of Cuban music, Chucho Valdes, took Canizares under his wing of discovery and support as has Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, a frequent musical collaborator. Canizares can best be viewed in exciting videos of her various performances with Sosa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZXRUlBHWvc And with Haitian guitarist Paul Beaubrun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDq740FggsI

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A Study in the Art of Tones, Textures, and Temperaments melded with Imagination

Another violinist, singer, and composer, from Moravia, Czech Republic, is the indomitable Iva Bittova who combines folklore, jazz, rock, and opera through an emotional, expressive violin and vocal wizardry, the latter which includes moans, chirps, yelps, and deep throat noises. Her mission is to wed sounds of nature with cultural expressions including Moravian folk songs. Having recorded 8 solo albums, her repertoire of singing while playing violin focuses on a vast compendium of improvised rhythms and various vocal tones, textures, and theatrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyHeMva_lPE&feature=emb_logo (5.58 minutes)

Hers is not a ‘traditional’ singing voice, and hardly mellifluous, but a ballsy, high pitched quivery expression, sometimes employing a weird mask-wearing, or clicks and howls. Her violin plucks while the horn section provides melody, resulting in a bouncy improvisation with voice blurbs and screams: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBz63_1eJx0 (6.58 minutes). It was during a ten year period (1970-1980) when she put her violin away to study drama and play roles in film, that she learned how to use her voice in different ways.

The now 62-year old Bittova had settled in 2007 in upper New York State where she continues to compose. In January 2008, she and her sister, also a professional musician, performed their first concert together to sold out crowds in Prague to celebrate their love of music. Bittova’s classical loves include the aria of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni as well as Janacek and Bartok for their inspiration in folk music. Hers is a unique, nameless, yet recognizable sound, and a magnificent study in the art of tones, textures, and temperaments melded with imagination. Check her website for details: https://www.bittova.com/about-iva-bittova/ including her Filmography credits and an extensive Discography.

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