Cathy Clasper-Torch

Reviews

Clasper-Torch Releases Masterful "Here Between"

by Don DiMuccio
Motif Magazine
December 15th, 2010

Over five years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing a disc by a group of musical artisans called The Gnomes. Aside from their unparalleled abilty to interpret Easter European and Celtic sounds with a palpable sense of respect and authenticity, what struck me most profoundly was their violinist Cathy Clasper-Torch. Thus when her latest release, Here Between, crossed my desk earlier this week, I immediately recognized her deply emotional performance style. Clasper-Torch doesn't simply play the violin, instead she paints vast musical landscapes, which transport the listener anywhere from the unspoiled green pastures of Connemara, Ireland to the 19th century balltefields of the War Between the States.

It comes as no suprise that, aside from being a live performer and recording artist, Cathy Clasper-Torch also teaches various disciplines of musical instrument. In fact, the liner notes provided with Here Between serve almost as an educational addendum to each of the album's tracks. Cathy becomes a tour guide of sorts, leading the listener through both an historic and personal journey relating to each of the unfolding tracks.

For example, with the opening song, the aptly titled "Gentleness," Cathy Clasper-Torch notes that she learned this traditional Scottish folksong while on sabbatical soon after the September 11th attacks. But one can safely surmise that Cathy's beautifully arranged take on this Old Europe standard vastly surpasses any what may have come before. In fact, these very first notes of the disc, played unaccompanied on violin, arouse more emotion and feeling than most performers achieve in an entire career.

Though largely based on the traditional folk sounds that even the casual listener could readily identify, the project on a whole is largely one of World Music. Accordingly, an Eastern flavor is introduced in the song "Wisdom Water," which features Cathy on the Erhu, a two-string bowed instrument best described as a Chinese Violin. Once again, Clasper-Torch is sharing her life's journey with the listener; "I first learned this while living in Hong Kong, where my family resided during my teen years." Somewhat in contrast, the uniquely American "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," an inspired re -working of the gospel standard "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," repatriates the participant back to a post-war battered United States.

It's of interest to note that throughout Here Between that Cathy Clasper-Torch draws inspiration from the 13th Century Persian poet and philosopher Jalali ad-din Muhammad Rumi (or as his friends called him, Rumi). Serving as her guru/muse, numerous references to Rumi's prose appear all through the CD. Clearly his spiritual influence is of utmost relevance to her work, as it exquisitely guides her along the aforementioned journey, and runs like a spiritual string that binds each track together. The album title itself is taken from a line in Rumi's 1207 peom, "With You Here Between," which compares our times of pre-birth and death to the parallel eastern and western horizons, with the now being here between.

Cathy Clasper-Torch wears the varied hats of performer, musician, instructor, teacher, and most importantly human, all with equal ease and mastery. Whereas a lyricist has a seemingly endless stockpile of words to work with, Cathy clasper-Torch is armed only with her instruments and heart. On Here Between, it's clear that both are resolutely intertwined as one.


Clasper-Torch celebrates solo disc

by Rick Massimo
The Providence Journal
October 13, 2011

It's a sleeping-bag weekend at the Blackstone River Theatre as Cathy Clasper-Torch celebrates the release of her first solo disc, "Here Between," on Saturday night.

Clasper-Torch is one of the most popular side musicians in Rhode Island, playing fiddle and more with The Gnomes, Atwater and Donnelly and a revolving cast of ad-hoc combinations, collectives and characters in Rhode Island's folk and traditional music scenes. So when she went to make a solo disc, she had dozens of great musicians to call to accompany her.

She didn't call any of them. "Here Between" is a solo disc in the literal sense: Clasper-Torch plays piano, violin, erhu, chimes and more on a collection of traditionals and spirituals, as well as originals based on them. It's quiet and meditative, and Clasper-Torch's violin is particularly luminous throughout.

There were "a lot of reasons" to play all the instruments herself, she says. Her parents were missionaries, so she lived in many places, including Hong Kong, for a time, and so she picked up songs and tunes "that I kind of didn't even know how to bring people into." She adds that sometimes while working on other people's recording projects, she was asked to layer three or more different parts onto one recording, to imitate a string trio. And while she was doing that, "I thought, 'That's really fun!' "

The disc was two and a half years in the making in percussionist Ron Schmitt's basement studio, but the idea to do a disc goes back to an extended trip she and husband Lee took to St. Andrew's, in Scotland, in 2001. "It was the first time in many years that I didn't have any bandmates and didn't know a soul. So I had to find out what's fun to play when I'm not playing with others. ... [To] delve inside me and find what my roots music is, and how to bring that to life."

Her career as a sidewoman has helped her compile a lot of diverse experiences, but it presented a challenge, too. "I can easily get wrapped in others' projects. In fact, even with my CD, I was relieved when someone would call" to ask her to play.

The disc-release show doubles as a Gnomes gig, and since the instrumentation of that group is very different from that on "Here Between," there'll only be a little of that music in the show -- maybe a solo erhu piece and one band song, Clasper-Torch says. But the disc itself is her chance to shine -- not that there weren't complicated feelings about that.

She remembers often thinking "There's no one else to share the burden of this if people don't like it! I can't say 'Oh, that was so-and-so's idea.' So there was a lot of anxiety when I sent it off. But now there's such a relief to have completed it."

 

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