It’s a long way from Brooklyn to Big Sur, isn’t it? Well, New York based composer (and Philip Glass Ensemble member) David Crowell’s work Eucalyptus suggests that the distance can be bridged with a single overtone series. This spectral imbued piece for saxophones allows for frequency pile-ups to suggest an aromatic evergreen grove just off of a Northern California beach: still within earshot of the crashing surf. And if you don’t like having this Big Sur inspired programme get in the way of your sonic immersion, it is a lovely and warm aural bath all by itself.
Crowell likes using consorts of instruments, homogeneous groupings (apart from occasional electronic manipulation). Thus, the saxophones of Eucalyptus and its jazzy post-minimal counterpart Point Reyes give way to the mallet instruments of Kaleidoscope. Here, the composer enlists the assistance of percussionist Brian Archinal, who populates the piece with a striking textural makeup of overlapping ringing ostinati.
Archinal is also on hand for “Throw Down your Heart,” a work inspired by a documentary in which Bela Fleck described the African roots of the banjo. It features the amadinda, a twelve foot long marimba played by up to six people. Indeed, the piece’s busily corruscating mallet-played melodies remind one of an entire shop of banjos and mbiras (thumb pianos) being played all at once. Here, as elsewhere, Crowell’s use of layering encompasses the cannily composed with just the right taste of aleatory to allow for a bit of improvisational sounding organicism to zestily season a distinctive sound world.