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Iva Bittová
Iva Bittová
ECM ****
There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Cast a glance in the direction of the blotchy almost opaque seascape of the artwork to Iva Bittová above, an album incidentally succinct enough to be self titled. The composition titles complete the effect: there’s just one word ‘Fragments’, and then a dozen roman numerals tacked on although they’re not so much variations as chapters in a continuing  and engrossing tale. The Czech vocalist and violinist isn’t a minimalist in the Terry Riley sense at all but hovers at the pared-down end of improv with occasional bird-like forays and the incantatory power of a prophetess at other times. Surprisingly tuneful at times, although mysteriously so the approach is defiantly unorthodox and more structured than it seems at first. The best clues you might have thought beforehand would be to look in the songs with lyrics provided by Gertrude Stein and Chris Cutler, There’s even an additional ‘fragment’ of composer Joaquin Rodrigo in here as well. But the words are as elemental and inscrutable as the seascape on the cover. Bittová manages to sound as if she’s from a desperately remote place, the instrument of a song emerging from the earth itself, yet the improvisations are never alienating. These ‘fragments’ would have been inconsequential in a lesser artist’s hands, but with Bittová enlarge before your very eyes. It’s a quality that makes this album, where less is more is paramount, so appealing.