Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples
music of Julia Wolfe
Matthew Welch, bagpipes
Talujon Percussion Ensemble
Lisa Moore, pianos
Robert Black, double basses
This disc is bound to get an immediate reaction and I’m willing to wager that the reaction will be extreme. When approached with the fact that Julia Wolfe has written a piece for nine (9) bagpipes, the reaction is going to be one of the following:
- “Why would anybody do such a thing?”
- or “Holy crap, it must be awesome! Put it on RIGHT NOW!”
I fall into that second category. This Canteloupe release collects four works by Julia Wolfe all featuring ensembles of a single instrument type and all with a singular musical focus that can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with, don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and absolutely will not stop, ever, until the piece is over. And then you’ll want to listen to the music again. Trust me. I haven’t lied to you yet.
LAD for nine bagpipes is a glorious work featuring drones (of course), expressive melodic fragments, life-altering glissandi, and the most revelatory emergence of tunes this side of Denis Smalley’s Pentes. Wolfe’s sense of musical timing is outrageously good. There is a slow wind-up of activity in the first half of the piece and then, when she “brings it” in the second half, she really Brings It. Matthew Welch, covering all 9 parts, provides a fantastic wall of sound, tons of musical expression, and has a palpable amount of fun with the material. The last 5 seconds of the work, where all 9 bagpipes power down, is simply perfect.
The title track of the disc is a work for four drum sets and is performed by the Talujon Percussion Quartet. Similar to LAD, Dark Full Ride is in two parts. The first part obsesses on cymbals and metal, especially the hi-hat, for an all too short seven and a half minutes. Wolfe is the master of transfixing the listener the simplest idea (running sixteenth notes). Part 2 brings in the drums and what starts off as a fairly normal groove. It doesn’t take long for the groove to become a distorted and lumbering engine and I mean this in an enthralling sort of way. Dark Full Ride grooves along with a propulsion and drive. The Talujon Percussion Quartet smacks out ever nuance and detail.
my lips from speaking, for six pianos, is a prismatic projection through a single soulful progression taken from Aretha Franklin’s song Think. The first third of the piece is dark and lugubrious with lots of space and resonance between gestures. Part 2 starts pushing forward with the help of a solid and comfortable blues bass line. You can hear every harmonic and overtone in Lisa Moore’s playing, which makes the piece that much more engaging and detailed. In part 3, Wolfe “let’s it snap” as my father says. Imagine the most soulful and explosive piano music you can muster. Now multiply it by 6.
Last, and certainly not least, is Stronghold for eight double basses performed by Robert Black. Part 1 is held together through throaty throbbing arpeggiations. There is a great stratification in registers that keeps the gestures clear when they need to be or hazy background when called for. The arpeggios give way to rapid tremolo fixations that lithely wind their way into part 2. In part 2, there is a clarification of musical elements and a clearer pecking order of melody, harmony, and bass line. It doesn’t take long for this clarity to complicate itself and devolve into rich static harmonies. The last two minutes of the piece consists of each bass groaning out the low E string with such ferocity and intensity that you would swear Robert Black was using electronic manipulation. Black’s sound is so huge and powerful that it seems as if it emanates from the most primal forces of nature. It is the perfect ending to the piece, the only ending you really want, but you don’t know it until you are soaking in it.
Did I mention how much I like this disc? I really, really do. Each piece transfixes me. I am writing my own music differently because of this disc. I am so glad that Julia Wolfe exists, is writing music, and that such talented performers play the hell out of her stuff.