Notes From the Kelp
Music by Alex Shapiro
1. Slipping, For Violin, Harpsichord and Very Mixed Percussion
2. Bioplasm, For Flute Quartet: 2 Bass Flutes, 2 Alto Flutes, 2 C Flutes,
3. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Surge
4. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Ebb
5. Current Events, For String Quintet: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 1 Cello/Rip
6. For My Father, For Solo Piano
7. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Observe
8. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Reflect
9. At the Abyss, For Piano, Marimba, Vibraphone and Percussion/Act
10. Phos Hilaron, For Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano
11. Music for Two Big Instruments, For Tuba and Piano
12. Deep, For Contrabassoon and Electronics
Alex Shapiro is a NYC expat now living on an island off of Washington State who writes what has been described as “midtown music” for lack of a better term. In her words, Alex’s music lies somewhere in the canyon between downtown and uptown. I think the reality is somewhat different—Alex Shapiro’s music doesn’t need to be categorized; it should be listened to on its own terms.
This is a very personal album, the first one exclusively devoted to her music, and one that provides a wide range of Alex’s works spanning a number of years. It asks the question “Can a composer be happy and live a balanced life filled with music, social activism and marine biology?” Apparently, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
There are a lot of works on this CD, including pieces for electronics as well as acoustic instruments. Of all the pieces, the two that worked most for me were Current Events for string quintet and Music for Two Big Instruments (piano and tuba). The tuba works very well in this piece, and it’s great to hear the instrument being used so lyrically and in a way that it is so exposed. The string quintet was nicely written for strings and is a compelling work of music.
The other items were great to listen to and probably will grow on me after even more repeated listening. There is a wide range of styles that makes this album diverse enough to have something of interest for anyone. There is also a great range of instrumentation, including strings, winds, (very mixed) percussion, piano, electronics…even a harpsichord. The piano work For My Father is particularly compelling. I should also say that the performances can be assumed to be definitive, being supervised by the composer. So unless Alex blew it and didn’t pay attention, this is as good a set of performances of her music as it gets.
You’re not going to find postminimalism on this album, or totalism, or serialism, or whatever. It’s just pure music, and there’s nothing wrong with being a movement of one.