Author Archive

Alvin Singleton

Sing to the Sun

Albany Records

Sing to the Sun is the 4th recording devoted entirely to the works of Alvin Singleton, and it’s a worthy addition to an already strong catalog. Singleton is a difficult composer to categorize, but his works always have a clarity and accessibility to them despite the often-dissonant tonal language. The five works on this disc are no exception. It is a testament its consistency that of the three people I’ve spoken to about it, all had a different favorite track.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I was a production assistant for the recording session of Greed Machine. As such, I have heard the piece many, many times, but it hasn’t worn thin in the least. The piece is performed by Teresa McCollough on piano and Peggy Benkeser on vibraphone, with the timbral properties of each instrument exploited to their fullest. From the dancing upper overtones of the opening to the sudden frenetic outbursts, it is one of Singleton’s best pieces in my (biased) opinion.

The following piece from 1971 is the oldest featured on the disc, and shows a young composer who was already in full command of his abilities. Argoru III, scored for solo flute, was written for Sara Vargas-Barritt, who performs it here. Normally I am not terribly attracted to works for solo flute, but the ecstatic thrill of this one won me over by the end. As a side note, someone should release a CD of the entire set of Argorus, a series of eight pieces for a variety of solo instruments. Every one I’ve heard is wonderful.

The title track plays like a children’s musical from a future culture. As with Argoru, Singleton again confounds my usual prejudices against narrative roles in musical forms by delivering an imaginative accompaniment to author/speaker Ashley Bryan’s intoned tale. As with many of Singleton’s pieces, it has such a beguiling simplicity to it that it’s easy to neglect the wonderful subtleties of the music.

Apple, scored for clarinet quartet, is the longest track at 18 minutes; it is also the most difficult. It starts out innocently enough with a single note, and builds to near cacophony. Yet even at its loudest, the clarity of the structure is never lost, and excitement is made all the more visceral by Singleton’s use of silence.

The final track is Fifty Times Around The Sun, performed by David Shifrin on clarinet and Anne-Marie McDermott on piano. Dramatic and reflective, dissonant and beautiful, free and structured, it closes the album and seems to sum up Singleton’s aesthetic at the same time.

Admittedly, I’m a devoted fan to Alvin’s music. Listeners who haven’t heard much of him would also be advised to check out this release. All of the performances are very strong, the sound quality is good, and it serves as a great introduction to a great artist.

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