For years now, virtuoso violinist Daisy Jopling’s mission has been to bridge the gap between classical music and more modern genres, invoking creative and stylistic continuities between vastly different forms of world music. Her 2009 album Key to the Classics took a deliberately didactic approach to classical music: it was intended as an entry point for people looking to ease themselves into the classical forms she spent her childhood and youth training to play. But the songs on that album were mostly classical standards dressed up with thumping drums, synth lines, and electric violin. Things truly began to click in her 2013 album The Healer Within, once again a compilation of classical standards. But these songs demonstrated more well-rounded, diverse orchestrations that truly opened up the pieces for new interpretations. Both Key to the Classics and The Healer Within contain covers of Antonio Vivaldi’s Winter from his immortal The Four Seasons concerti. Jopling’s growth between the two versions is remarkable. The first is a more-or-less straightforward cover of the piece over a quasi hip-hop drum beat. But the Winter from The Healer Within is almost abstract, opening with a choppy rhythm piano ostinato, a quietly burping bass line, and a shrill violin riff that eventually morphs into Vivaldi’s piece. Here Jopling wasn’t merely playing Winter, she made it her own.
And now we come to Awakening, Jopling’s latest album and her first to feature her own original compositions. The album is one of Jopling’s most ambitious to date, mixing and blending a dizzying number of disparate styles and musical traditions. One of the album’s best songs, “Indian Jesus”, brazenly cobbles together salsa rhythms, bouncy piano lines, and a funk bass interlude.
The delightful “Beat on a String” takes cues from Serbian folk music, alternating between Jopling’s frantic playing and Slavic synth runs reminiscent of a cartoon mouse running up and down a keyboard. “World Citizen”, perhaps the most successful synthesis of styles on the album, combines a sunny, tropical atmosphere with the hip-hop stylings of Michael Feigenbaum. The song is pure delight, especially when it gets to the crashing, rhythmic orchestral blasts reminiscent of early Dave Matthews Band songs like “Drive In, Drive Out” before the group became a watered-down parody of itself.
What truly strikes the listener is how much Daisy allows her other fellow musicians on the album room to shine. Take the opening track Primordial—we are treated to a thumping bass line at times reminiscent of Michael Manring and a truly delightful call-and-response between a flute and Jopling’s violin. It gives the feeling of a truly collaborative effort—which it is—and not just a glorified vanity project—which it isn’t.
Curiously, it’s the more straightforward songs that seem the most underwhelming. The last half of the album contains two vocal ballads, “Childhood Dreams” and “Take Time”, that are a bit too saccharine for their own good (although in fairness, the latter track gets points for its bubbly reggae organ parts). The album ends on “Country Home:, another vocal ballad. But taking cues from Country and Gospel music, it satisfies as a forceful yet optimistic climax featuring a truly epic chorus.
Awakening is at its best when it throws caution to the wind. It’s only when it tries to be safe, or dare I say commercial, that it underwhelms. Much like her other albums, Awakening sees Jopling in the midst of creative and artistic metamorphosis. I’m not sure where she might go next—personally, I’d like to see her experiment more with hip-hop. But much of the fun of Jopling’s music and career is their unpredictability. So we might as well hang loose and enjoy them in the meantime.