The Hydra Ensemble is a Rotterdam-based quartet featuring Swiss cellist Nina Hitz (who plays in The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble), Croatian cellist Lucija Gregov, prolific Portuguese double bassist Gonçalo Almeida (known from the Spinifex, Lama Trio and The Attic) and Dutch sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt (aka Machinefabriek, who recently collaborated with Almeida on another album, The Selva + Machinefabriek, Barabtrama, Shhpuma, 2021, and before as a duo with Almeida on Doze Ruínas and Jangadas, Cylinder, 2015 and 2016) on electronics. Hydra Ensemble is an ominous four-headed entity, just like the Greek mythical animal they are named after, and all its music is credited to the four musicians.
Voltas is the debut album of this quartet, recorded at the Old Church in the Rotterdam Charlois neighborhood, in July 2020. The music of the quartet emerges from highly pensive and minimalist collective improvisations and experimental foreboding ambiance. The unique chamber instrumentation favors deep, dark and sustained notes and overtones, that, in its turn, explore the timbres and colors of the cello and the double bass, ornamented with a subtle and precise, yet often subversive and expansive palette of electronic sounds.
The patient, methodic and egalitarian aesthetic of the Hydra Ensemble often suggests a strong sonic entity, as if the bowing work of Hitz, Gregov and Almeida with the layers of electronic sounds unite into one, a majestic but unsettling entity that avoids unnecessary dramas. At other times, the four musicians offer nuanced layers of interwoven sounds of strings and electronics. Sometimes, the music of the quartet sounds archaic, as if referencing mysterious ancient rituals, but it can shifts later within the same piece into a futurist experimental, sound-oriented drone, or an elegiac, contemporary texture. All pieces are performed with an impressive focus on detail and command.
IV and VI are the exceptions within the dark minimalist textures of Voltas as both rely on a rhythmic element, a steady pulse on the first and Almeida’s dynamic bass work on the latter, both disturbed by the always imaginative and insightful noises that Zuydervelt injects, that brings VI, and the whole album, into an intense, climactic coda, that guarantees that the Hydra Ensemble just began to explore its promising aesthetics – Eyal Hareuveni, Salt Peanuts, 2 June 2021
CD is housed in a full-colour 6 panel digipak.