Dustin O’Halloran: Lumiere (CD Review)

Dustin O’Halloran
Fat Cat Records CD

It seems fitting, in a way, that pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran calls Los Angeles home. His post-classical instrumental compositions are frequently evocative in a fashion that’s also come to be associated with (good) film music: atmospheric, melodically direct, and capable of expressing a wide range of emotions. And even though O’Halloran has become active as a film composer in recent years, scoring An American Affair and the upcoming Like Crazy (out in October), he remains involved in creating music separate from images that’s equally involving.

Lumiere, O’Halloran’s debut for the Fat Cat imprint, is some of his most arresting music to date. With sterling support from Jóhann Jóhannsson, who handles engineering and mixing duties and contributes electronics to the proceedings, as well as members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) recording the string parts, O’Halloran crafts more intricate arrangements than those found on previous albums. While elaborations don’t inherently enhance, here they allow O’Halloran’s piano to become one texture among many, a percussive foil for richly layered strings and synths. Passages reminiscent of Francophone neoclassicism, variously recalling Satie’s Gymnopedies and Parisian waltzes, as well stretches bell-tinged minimalism, are frequently present in this collection of compelling compositions. Here’s hoping that O’Halloran will be able to maintain both scoring and non-programmatic creation in the rotation for a long time to come.

Christian Carey sings … Philip Glass?

Back in 1992, I sang in violinist Paul Festa’s recital at Juilliard. I was part of a quartet that sang “Knee Play 4″ from Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach. Paul even got us an audience with the composer himself. We travelled downtown and sang the piece for Philip Glass at his home. He was very helpful, offering several suggestions and even playing the piano for us.

I came across this video of the performance, taken at the recital. The most startling thing, besides seeing myself singing on YouTube, was seeing an earlier incarnation of myself that had a full head of hair!

Aaron Siegel: new recording on Lockstep (review)

Aaron Siegel
Science is Only a Sometime Friend
Lockstep Records (CD/Digi)

Mantra Percussion recently recorded Aaron Siegel’s Science is Only a Sometime Friend for his Lockstep imprint. The version that appears here, a single, continuously played forty minute long piece for eight glockenspiels and organ, is somewhat different from the original conception of the piece. In its outdoor live version, passersby were invited to contribute improvisatory additions on extra instruments (one can see examples of this on YouTube).

While the studio version may not capture the delightful aleatory of its sister conception, it is a strong piece in its own right. Siegel certainly owes a debt to minimalism, in particular to works by Steve Reich such as Music for Mallet Instruments and the more recent Mallet Quartet. It shares an affinity with some of the drone partials of works byLa Monte Young and even the upper harmonics employed in certain spectral works as well.

But it also channels more recent innovations. It’s tintinnabular halo of overlapping glockenspiel lines take on more futuristic timbres, at turns mimicking micro-polyphonic synthesis and the homemade instruments of Tristan Perich. Indeed, this is music that is less about repetition as pulsating ostinato and more about its ability to create resonant accumulations, sonic washes, that gradually morph. It’s an elegantly shaped and often beguiling sound world. While Siegel’s view of Science as a fair weather companion is a common one in our skeptical era, there’s no doubting that the supple organicism of this work, outdoors or on the hi-fi, is well nigh irresistible.

Signal performs Glassworks live (CD Review)

Glassworks: Live at Le Poisson Rouge

Conducted by Brad Lubman
Featuring Michael Riesman
Orange Mountain Music CD

In some respects, it’s hard to believe that it has taken thirty years for Philip Glass’ Glassworks to be performed live in its entirety in New York City. Then again, this work is demanding, both technically and in terms of endurance. But Signal’s April 2010 performance at Le Poisson Rouge of pianist, keyboardist, and Glass collaborator Michael Riesman’s arrangement of the piece for live forces is worth the wait. It’s also an excellent way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the  Glassworks studio recording; a release that further cemented its composer’s reputation as an artist capable of crossing over and achieving recognition with mainstream audiences.

And while I treasure my copy of the original recording, in some respects this live rendition reveals aspects of the piece one might have missed the first time around. First of all, it sounds terrific (kudos to Hector Castillo for a finely tuned mix!). Credit must also go to Riesman for his sensitive recreation of the score, which renders it with clarity. Riesman and Signal perform said document with buoyancy, creating vibrant rather than motoric effects with Glass’ myriad ostinati. This is even true (perhaps especially so) in Glassworks’ companion piece on the disc, the inexorably process-driven, yet here lithely grooving, Music in Similar Motion. Conductor Brad Lubman urges the ensemble to shape phrases supply rather than angularly, and this prevents the scores’ repetitions from feeling “repetitive:” instead, they mesmerize.

This is a CD that Glass devotees will adore, but also an excellent one to play first to convert the anti-minimalist naysayers among their friends. Recommended.

“Reich on Reich”

Steve Reich turns 75 this coming October, and the celebrations have already begun. Later this month is a concert at Carnegie Hall on 4/30. It features the Kronos Quartet in a new piece commemorating a more sombre anniversary: WTC 9/11.

In the lead up to the Carnegie concert, there will likely be countless interviews, features, etc.; but this YouTube video is a terrific five-minute distillation of Reich’s interests, influences, and musical style.

I love the segue early on from bebop ii-V-I changes to Steve Reich’s pulsating ostinati.

Stuart Deaver Talks Torke, Plays Adams in Princeton

Stuart Deaver, a professor of piano at the University of Tulsa, is visiting Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey this week. On Thursday, February 10 at 11:30am in Talbott 1, he will present a lecture entitled “Musical Equivalency of Alphabetical Order in Michael Torke’s Telephone Book” at MCHaT Forum.

On Friday, February 11 at 7:30pm, Dr. Deaver will perform a piano recital on campus in Bristol Chapel. The program includes John Adams’ China Gates and Phrygian Gates, as well as works by Mozart and Portuguese composer Vianna da Motta. The recital is free and open to the public.


GVSU live at LPR

In C
Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Ghostly International + Wordless Music

Irrespective of genre, GVSU NME’s latest rendition of Terry Riley’s In C is one of the best live albums released in 2010. Recorded at a November, 2009 gig at Le Poisson Rouge, the group presents a 65-minute rendition of the piece: by no means as long as many performances, but far more luxurious than their taut rendition on the In C Remixed CD (Innova, 2009).

Unlike some postmodern interpretators, such as Acid Mother’s Temple, who do violence to the form of In C in an indulgent  misunderstanding of the open spirit of its performance instructions, GVSU NME have provided a thoughtful take on Riley’s intentions. It’s a reasonably faithful interpretation of the score’s flexible notation garbed in innovative instrumentation choices.

Though GVSU NME is, at its core, a 16-person group of contemporary classical musicians, there’s more than a bit of genre-bending going on here. The concert starts off with a skronk-filled free jazz introduction; perhaps a bit of an overstep, but a fascinating one! The performance also features an electronica component: the beats and effects of laptop performer Dennis DeSantis. Yet all of these disparate elements cohere into a rendition of In C that’s both impeccably prepared and frequently thrilling. It suggests that Riley’s mutable minimalist declaration still has the capacity to sound surprisingly fresh and eminently vital.

MP3: In C Live (excerpt)