Archive for the “Innova” Category
Timothy McAllister, saxophone
Lucia Unrau, piano; Robert Spring, clarinet
I knew Timothy McAllister’s recently released CD, Glint, was a hit when it grabbed me through my Jeep’s speakers as I drove down the highway. An athletic, delicate and powerful performance, Glint showcases Mr. McAllister’s command of the full sonic potential of his instrument. Along these lines, the works featured on the album cast a wide net over the landscape of contemporary music, making Glint a must-listen for any composer with plans of working with saxophone, regardless of aesthetic preferences.
The CD plays like a recital one would never forget, and samples a wide variety of instrumental combinations, soloistic colors and modern musical styles. For example, Caleb Burhans’ Escape Wisconsin (2006), Roshanne Etehazy’s Glint (2006) and Gregory Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata (2002) represent the kind of groove-oriented saxophone music I’ve observe to be very popular for saxophones, though, each of the three are very different. Escape Wisconsin is heavily rooted in repeated rhythms and melodic figures, as is the first movement of Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata, though this piece quickly departs to explore beautiful two-part counterpoint and – ultimately – the blues. Ms. Etehazy’s Glint is a tightly wound composing-out of an opening string of triplets, and presents – much like Mr. Wanamaker’s Duo Sonata – the nearly identical sounds of clarinet, played by Robert Spring, and saxophone in varied combinations.
Offering a more aggressive and abstract sound are Kristin Kuster’s Jellyfish (2004), Kati Agócs’ As Biddeth Thy Tongue (2006) and Daniel Asia’s The Alex Set (1995). Ms Agócs’ and Mr. Asia’s works are perfect large-scale solo works, particularly As Biddeth Thy Tongue which feels like a dramatic soliloquy and possesses a wide expressive range thanks to is juxtaposition of great lyricism and extended techniques. The Alex Set similarly opposes the saxophone’s sweetness and rhythmic facility within a more rigid structure of expository set pieces separated by contemplative interludes. Ms. Kuster’s Jellyfish is one of two works on the CD that pairs Mr. McAllister with piano, played by Lucia Urnau. The work flows smoothly through three movements, and the first – “medusa” – is compellingly indecisive, vacillating between capricious, fast gestures and slower, recitative-esque passages. This is followed by the sincere and elegiac aria, “blob” –some of the most profound music on the CD – and then closes with the piano and saxophone working almost as one line on the light and mecurial, “thimbles”.
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Innova CD 739
Pianist Matthew McCright’s recital disc on the Innova imprint has been given a cute but apt ‘in house’ descriptor: “Kinderszenen aus Northfield.” Indeed, the Carleton College professor and new music advocate has assembled a disc of new works which simultaneously channel and elevate the “music for childhood/music about childhood” genre.
For those who’ve slaved through dull character pieces and rhythmically inert etudes during childhood piano lessons, several of the pieces on Misplaced Childhood will no doubt repair these memories. Indeed, the disc replaces them with the type of fare one wishes was in the folders – and practice routines – of more students today. Namely, the composers featured here are able to evoke childhood and, often, to write with student performers in mind, while never ‘writing down’ to young musicians. One is particularly charmed by the dance compositions of Daniel Nas and Laura Caviani; both have written suites filled with jazzy character pieces which seem readymade for the student recital stage. John Halle’s “Lullaby” and “Misplaced Childhood” are both lithely evocative standouts as well.
McCright’s detailed and engaging renditions amply demonstrate that pieces for intermediate performers, as well as those for advanced pianists who are channeling memories of childhood, can still make for interesting listening and prove themselves of considerable substance.
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FELDMAN: Clarinet and String Quartet; BABBITT: Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet. Mark Lieb, clarinet; Phoenix Ensemble. Innova 746. 63 minutes.
We spend a lot of time, energy, and words on the differences in art—what separates artists, what makes for different styles, what distinguishes one period from another, etc. Occasionally we are nudged into hearing these things in a different light by unusual juxtapositions of pieces in a concert program or on a recording.
It is tempting, easy in fact, to hear the music of Morton Feldman and Milton Babbitt as irreconcilably opposed. Where Feldman is expansive, Babbitt compressed; where Babbitt bubbles, Feldman flows.
This disc, however, almost forces us to hear the common ground between these two totems of the mid-century style wars. The two pieces are wholly characteristic of the composers’ mature style, yet their common instrumentation (and their juxtaposition on the disc) highlighted their similarities. This is also due in part to the beautifully nuanced performances by clarinetist Mark Lieb and members of the Phoenix Ensemble.
Specifically, I am struck by the expressive/structural use of register in both pieces. Both Feldman and Babbitt use the return to and movement away from pitches fixed in a particular register as markers in the progress of the piece. I wonder if there’s been much analysis/research on the use of register in music of the second half of the twentieth-century, because it seems to me to be a uniting factor in an era known for adversarial diversity.
This is an outstanding recording. Highly recommended for fans of the genre and either or both composers.
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“From the 9th to the 15th centuries, the area which is now modern Spain was home to the greatest peaceful agglomeration of cultures ever known in the post-literate world…Even more remarkable than the flowering of art itself was the confluence of cultures that produced it: under the rule of Islam, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived and worked together in relative harmony.”
-Maya Beiser, Provenance liner notes essay
Cellist Maya Beiser’s latest CD for the Innova imprint seeks to craft music that celebrates the rich multiculturalism of the Iberian peninsula. Using medieval Spain as a jumping off point, Beiser has commissioned a collection of works that celebrate Christian, Jewish, and Muslim musical traditions. The participants frequently interweave stylistic and ethnic boundaries. The results are frequently engaging musical hybrids.
Iranian kamancheh composer and master Kalyan Kalhor’s “I Was There” features Beiser alongside oud performer Bassam Saba and percussionists Jamey Haddad and Shane Shanahan. This rhapsodic piece allows cello and oud each to negotiate long-breathed melismatic cadenzas. Eventually, Beiser and Saba come together, duetting in supple, then increasingly rhythmically incisive phrases.
Armenian dudukahar Djivan Gasparian’s “Memories” is a haunting and evocative piece. While Gasparian is not necessarily a household name, his performances on duduk (a double reed instrument) have populated a number of Hollywood films, including Blood Diamond and Gladiator. “Memories” captures the essential flavor of Armenian folk music, all the while bearing in mind the cello’s proclivities for generous-toned lyricism. Above an omnipresent drone, Beiser unleashes keening, ardent modal melodies.
Israeli composer Tamar Muskal took Ladino folksong as the basis for “Mar de Leche,” her collaboration with Beiser. Sung by Sephardic Jews in Spain, Ladino is a linguistic hybrid of Spanish and Hebrew. Muskal’s piece, a work for chamber ensemble that features the same musicians as the Kalhor work, abetted by the dynamic vocalist Etty Ben-Zaken. Beiser and Saba once again exhibit considerable musical chemistry. Beiser also incorporates some of the undulating vibrato and pitch-bends of Ben-Zaken’s vocal style, creating an organic set of timbral ensemble interactions.
In the summer of 2009, Beiser travelled with composer Douglas J. Cuomo to Cordoba and Granada: a field trip to do research that would abet the composition of his contribution to Provenance: “Only Breath.”
Inspired by the work of Sufi poet Jellaludin Rumi (one of my favorites!), the piece finds Beiser in collaboration with sound designer Shahrokh Yadegari. Seeking to evoke the sound of wind passing through the prevalent minarets in Andalusia, Cuomo has crafted a work that plays with mobile filigrees and reverberant echoes. It makes good use of looping technology too; rather than using it to fashion a pad of repeated utterances, the loops instead allow for slow-building counterpoint of phantom cello Doppelgängers. The final result is a series of dovetailing, angst-filled melodic lines amid ghostly, floating verticals. I’ve heard many vocal settings of Rumi that have had much less to say than this more abstracted, yet tremendously thoughtful, instrumental meditation on his work.
Evan Ziporyn’s arrangement of the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir,” for Beiser and prog-rock luminary drummer Jerry Marotta, closes out the disc. While its clear that this is the piece with the most accessible crossover appeal on the CD, that awareness takes nothing away from its inclusion. It points up another kind of hybridized music-making – the influence of Eastern signatures on Led Zep’s rock-oriented sound. What’s more, Beiser and Marotta just plain tear it up!
Sometimes, a concept album contains a creative inspiration that is far better than the reality it imagines. In my view, Provenance extolls a wonderful collaborative atmosphere: a model for many future cross-cultural projects. Alas, this type of music-making is a relatively recent innovation and, in many venues, is still far from prevalent. One wishes Maya Beiser were able to make multicultural music without extolling the virtues of dhimmi under Muslim rule. During the Middle Ages, dhimmi – “people of the book” (Christians and Jews) – were sporadically allowed limited religious freedom in Iberia. But there were significant legal and cultural restrictions placed upon non-Muslim citizens; these were terms of surrender, not of collaboration or accommodation. Thus, my reading of history doesn’t allow me to share Beiser’s utopian view of medieval multiculturalism. I’d rather listen to Provenance as a hopeful and tantalizing glimpse at what music-making and, indeed, cultural coexistence, may increasingly look like in the future than to revise or rewrite our spotty attempts at getting along in the past.
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Ellen Tweiten, piano; Kurt Carpenter, microtonal keyboard
“The synthesizer uses a piano patch and is detuned by 40 cents.” You know, when you encounter tid-bits like this in the booklet notes, you are talking about a different kind of animal altogether, in whose habits, care and feeding I do not claim to be familiar. So, I’ll be very brief before exhausting my knowledge on the subject. It seems that microtones are intervals of less than an equally spaced semitone. In Western music, which is based on 12 equal intervals to the octave, microtones have been of negligable importance (not so in music of the non-western world from Africa to Bali, where considerable use is made of them). Contemporary interest in semitones has been spurred by real-time computer music performance systems in both electronic and rock music. Beyond that, there seem to be literally hundreds of possible microtonal keyboard designs, which may vary considerably in the way they take and modify information from another source, such as a traditional keyboard instrument.
Alabama Places is a set of twelve duets for piano and microtonal keyboard, which composer Monroe Golden describes as “the fruit of an introspective four-year journey.” Each duet is connected in some way to a place that has either a strong personal association for the composer or some regional or historic significance. While we aren’t given specific information as to the type of microtonal keyboard employed here, Golden does inform us that these pieces were conceived as studies in the tradition of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, only in overtone-based harmony rather than key relationships. “The keyboard is detuned by an interval between 4 and 48 cents, in 4-cent increments, for each of the twelve pieces,” says the composer. “Thus, the entire set explores twelve different 24-note scales made up of two asymmetrical 12-note equal-tempered scales. Available pitches at a given moment correspond to overtone relationships from fundamental frequencies that also shift in 4-cent increments.”
Confused? I must admit I don’t follow the theory involved, so I’ll focus on the affective side of the music. Other critics have spoken of the “beauty and elegance” of these microtonal duets, finding them “delightfully disorienting” and “sumptuous, yet arcane.” Since my own ears have not been sufficiently “detuned” or “re-tuned,” I must confess there seems to be more than a little family resemblance among them, or, as Lewis Carroll’s dormouse would have put it, “much of a muchness.” The effect on the listener can be described as “mesmerizing,” if one is inclined to like what he hears, or “stupefying,” if one isn’t.
There is a kind of calming, soothing effect, perhaps even pensiveness or nostalgia, in the simplicity of Golden’s writing for the piano, which goes along well with the evocation of place names like “Iron Road,” “Natchez Trace,” “North Shelby,” and “Pell City.” The music in each duet did not always strike me as a perfect correlative for the place name. There are two duets with notable water-associations: “Tensaw,” inspired by a canoe trip down the Tensaw River, is described by Golden as “slow moving, lyrical, effortless, and buzzy” like the river itself (“Buzzy”? Maybe that’s the sound made by cicadas on the riverbanks on a hot summer’s day?.) “Coosa Basin” is more energetic, with cadences allegedly inspired by the hydroelectric plants in the area. Other correspondences are not as obvious, however: “Demopolis,” in a region of the state that time seems to have forgotten, is characterized by music not so very different from that used for “Montevallo,” Golden’s tribute to his alma mater, the liberal arts university where he studied in the early 80’s and where he fell in love with his first Moog synthesizer. Switch the name plates, and we might be none the wiser. There is, however, something for just about everyone to like in Alabama Places, whether you are a microtonal buff or not.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Millikan, Piano
Music of Ann Millikan
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Grigor Palikarov, conductor
- Ballad Nocturne (with Emanuele Arciuli, piano)
- Trilhas de Sombra
- Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal
Ann Millikan’s music is a wonderfully eclectic mix of several contemporary compositional styles and yet Millikan retains an individual and consistent voice throughout each work on this Innova CD. Ballad Nocturne, (2009) for piano and chamber orchestra, puts jazz harmonies and figurations through a Druckman-esque prism. Neither straight-ahead jazz nor purely-abstract instrumental music, this piece encapsulates Millikan’s musical personality: that of a synthesizer. Disperate elements flow together and mix in seamless compositions. Around the 8 minute mark of Ballad Nocturne, time simply stops as high strings and a repeated high piano figure float over a slightly-disturbed walking piano bass. The piece switches gears from pseudo-lounge to Morton Feldman without dislocating the listener’s eardrum. Instead of ending the piece at this moment, which I fully expected, a more traditional jazz ballade lugubriously emerges and clarifies everything we’ve heard previously with the subdued juxtaposition of earlier elements.
Perhaps jazz transformations aren’t your thing. No worries there, because the orchestral triptych Trilhas de Sombra, (2009) a programatic work based upon a story written by Millikan’s niece, feeds any needs you have for good ol’ American atonal expressionism. Except, of course, when Millikan doesn’t need such language to express the ideas in the story. Gestures and textures tend to abound instead of melodies but the music is still a cohesive unit that moves in a single, unified direction. The melodies that emerge are long and fluid and showcased with solid and direct orchestrations. Millikan doesn’t get caught in the trap of being overly clever and instead crafts a wonderfully picturesque and programatic work and like many great programatic orchestral showcases, Trilhas de Sombra doesn’t come across as a movie soundtrack without the visuals. Unabashedly contemporary in sound, this is an approachable and enjoyable work that does not condescend to the listener.
Millikan has been flexing her synthesis muscles in the previous two works and the final composition, as one would expect, merges elements from the previous two (even though it is the earliest piece on the disc – 2008). Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal is just as trippy and fun as the title might suggest. I don’t know how to land “inside the inside” of something, nor do I wholly understand how the spacey, abstract, atonal music of the first half relates to the Afro-Cuban inspired dance rhythms that drive the second half. I also don’t know how this all ties into the “story of initiation” mentioned in the program notes. You know what? I don’t care that I don’t know how this works. It works. Being a fan of WTF moments in compositions, Landing Inside the Inside of an Animal hits me right where I live. This piece is a journey but, unlike Trilhas de Sombra, there didn’t seem to be a predetermined path to follow. It is as if Millikan just struck out to go somewhere and ended up in the most wonderful and fantastic places.
I do have one problem with this disc. While the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra sounds great on each piece, it really irks me that such purely American music written in the last 2 years had to be outsourced for the recording. I should think that American orchestras would be falling all over themselves to perform and record Millikan’s output.
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Posted by Jay Batzner in CD Review, Clarinet, Innova, Jay Batzner, Piano, Women Composers, tags: CD Review, chamber music, Clarinet, Innova, instrumental, Jay Batzner, Piano, saxophone
Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets
Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon
- Rafael Leonardo Junchaya – Tres Danzas Episkénicas
- HyeKyung Lee – Shadowing
- Keith Carpenter – The Devil His Due
- Eric Honour – neither from nor towards
- Marco Antonio Mazzini – Imprevisto
- Kevin Walczyk – Refractions
- Fernando Benadon – Five Miniatures
The Thelema Trio’s modular nature, even within the context of being a trio, is one of its primary strengths and they strut their stylistic, coloristic, versatile stuff with this collection of pieces. No two works share the same instrumentation nor do any of the compositions share the same sound world. The only performer not showcased with a solo feature of some sort is the pianist but Ward De Vleeschhouwer is a superb collaborative artist who can highlight his abilities within a chamber music setting. Peter Verdonck has excellent tone and energy on alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones and Marc Antonio Mazzini has a lithe and supple sound on standard or bass clarinet. Together, the two reed players have a perfectly communal sound quality.
Each piece on the disc showcases the Thelema Trio’s mercuriality. Rafael Leonardo Junchaya’s Tres Danzas Episkénicas is equal parts sultry, ethereal and playful. This work uses the most instruments overall with the reeds changing from bass clarinet to clarinet and use of baritone and tenor saxophones. Overall, these dances are attractive, slightly thorny pitch language and extremely well orchestrated.
HyeKyung Lee’s Shadowing is a canonic/imitative work for clarinet and alto saxophone. Long melodic lines weave in and out with sinewy and twisty motions. The blend between the performers is spot on and the whole piece has great long-term trajectory. The high climax reached early on in the work is the exact right music at the exact right time. Keith Carpenter’s raucous The Devil His Due for baritone sax and piano is a punchy, aggressive, and energetic toccata for the two instruments. Instead of the baritone sax being the “front man” of the piece, both instruments engage in funky rhythmic interplay.
The title track on the CD, neither from nor towards, is an extended rhapsody for baritone sax, clarinet, and piano written by Eric Honour. This obsessive piece spends a lot of time spinning its wheels (in a good way) where the music is, indeed, neither from anywhere nor moving towards anywhere. Long overlapping tones in the reeds and mid-range piano are broken by the occasional spiky piano accents in extreme registers. Gradually a melody emerges and by the halfway point we are in a soaring, melodic section. The soaring becomes frenetic, dies down, but then trashes around with one last outburst. If you were to drop in on any single section of the piece, you might wonder how it all fits together. But listening to the complete work, Eric Honour draws an excellent through-line. The programming for this piece is perfect since it showcases not only the coloristic blend between the reeds but also the rhythmic punctuation possibilities found in earlier works.
The only solo composition on the disc, Marco Antonio Mazzini’s Imprevisto sounds like music we aren’t really supposed to be hearing. The slow unfolding work for clarinet gives the impression that we are eavesdropping on the performer while they worked out musical/emotional stuff. This piece is haunting and captivating. Refractions, by Kevin Walczyk, brings back some playful and bouncy music back to the disc. The motoric repeated notes in the piano provide a platform for melodies and shapes in the alto sax and clarinet. The energy is constantly pushing forward, even when the music slows and becomes more tender. The light and springy material returns to close out the composition.
Finally, the Five Miniatures for baritone sax, bass clarinet, and piano by Fernando Benadon are delightfully quirky pieces that present a focal idea, perseverate upon said idea, and then vanish. Niether of the five movements feels underwritten and, while one might hear how each idea could become longer, I think it would destroy the chiseled nature of these pieces. There is a lot of fun and whimsy in their brevity, making this piece the perfect waft of light flavor after a satisfying meal.
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Courtney Orlando, violin; Evan Price, violin; Kurt Rohde, viola; Marco Mazzini, clarinets; Michael Formanek, bass; Christopher Froh, percussion; Nasar Abadey, drums
At first, I thought this disc was another great example of insightful free-improvisation. Each player takes great care to contribute to a fundamental aesthetic per track and makes groovy, understated, or rhapsodic lyrical music as the track demands. Then, I read the CD notes. It turns out that Fernando Benadon, the mastermind behind this disc, recorded each player doing free improv in isolation from the other players. Benadon then took the helm of mixmaster and chiseled together these insightful and intuitive (hence the disc name) tracks.
The end result is a breezy sounding ensemble that is never too heavy or too meandering. This music could easily be foreground or background in any of a thousand hip settings. It sounds like performers that have a mature working relationship and an excellent set of ears.
The conflict between the natural sound of the group and the unnatural story of the recording is equal parts engrossing, maddening, and bewildering. I expect this disc to spark up the conversation about the truth (or lack thereof) in the recording process. I’ll leave that discussion aside and say that I like where Benadon’s ears are and I look forward to hearing more.
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Innova CD 734
LA-based pianist DANNY HOLT, currently on the faculty at Cal-Arts, is a brilliant player. A percussionist as well as a pianist, he attacks the instrument with verve. On his Innova recital disc, the pianist presents five world premieres; all pieces written since 1997. The disc opens with Caleb Burhans’ In Time of Desperation (2003). Written to commemorate the passing of Luciano Berio, the piece is a series of variations on a ground. This venerable technique is refreshed by pop-inflected harmonies and a postminimal rhythmic ostinato. While the language seems distant from Berio’s, Burhans’ engagement with elements from the distant musical past, as well as his willingness to explore vulnerable emotional terrain, resonant with the departed as music of a kindred spirit.
Holt’s fulsomely energetic approach seems well-suited to the Yamaha grand he favors. Brightly shaded incisive attacks give appropriate luster to the CD’s title work; Lona Kozik’s Fast Jump; Etudes and Interludes for Piano. Kozik writes brilliantly for the piano, inhabiting an earnest, postmodern language rife with virtuosity. “A Tangled Web We Weave (We Keep our Demons Intact)” is filled with whirling arpeggiations and punchy repeated clusters. Traversing the entire keyboard, it alternates registers in strategic, dramatically-charged juxtapositions. Another highlight is “Disperse (the quick but calm spread of sunlight – on water – at dawn)” is an appropriately Impressionist etude in polyrhythmically overlapping arpeggiations, creating a diaphanous swath of shimmering harmonies.
Jascha Narveson’s ripple (2005) is a welcome respite in the midst of these stormy musical proceedings. Its spare harmonic palette and gentle demeanor remind one a bit of Tobias Picker’s “Old and Lost Rivers;” but Narveson favors a more pointillist sensibility. In a clever programming choice, this “eye of the hurricane” is followed by Graham Fitkin’s “Relent.” This postminimal powerhouse is a live staple of Holt’s; and he plays it assuredly and impressively. At eleven minutes in duration, Fitkin’s constant keyboard assault is a grueling gauntlet, containing enough material to keep the players in his multi-piano works happy; Holt manages to grab it all with two hands – con fuoco!
The disc closes with another set of elegies: David Lang’s memory pieces (1997). Although his recent Pulitzer prize award has garnered Lang increased scrutiny of his latest works, these pieces serve as a reminder that he’s been a consummate craftsman and thoughful composer all along. Each of the pieces serves as a memorial to a departed friend. The half-hour cycle is frequently poignant, but also serves as a collection of etudes. “cello” highlights cross-hands playing; “cage” is an exploration of ambient effects. “Spartan arcs” is a delightful showcase for one of Holt’s favorite techniques: overlapping arpeggios. While one seldom thinks of etudes solemnly emotional works, “memory pieces” is both a technical tour de force and a considerably eloquent collection.
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The Phenomenon Of Threes
Trios For Flute, Clarinet And Piano
Suite for Flute, Clarinet and Piano,
Breezes of Yesteryear,
A Time To…,
Esther Lamneck, clarinet; Keith Underwood, flute; Martha Locker, piano
The five works on this disc are nothing like I thought they would be. With the instrumentation of flute, clarinet, and piano, I imagined that the music would be showpieces for the woodwinds while the pianist provided some kind of obligatory backdrop. Instead, I found delightful and engaging chamber music. It is nice when that happens.
Each of the five works has its own sense of fluidity and flow. Lawrence Moss’ Suite is a delightful collection of miniatures, rich with color and vibrant gestures. Breezes of Yesteryear is an impressionistic-inspired fantasia that swims through time and timbres. Richard Brooks’ three movement Circular Motions takes the performers through spritely and playful material, keeping everything light and airy the whole time. Isomorphic Plenum is the thorniest work on the disc but is engaging and compelling with rich contrapuntal lines and long, sinewy passages. The final work, A Time To… is an energetic and passionate work with abstracted electronic sounds which are well-orchestrated into the acoustic fabric. I preferred the shuffled vocal textures over the synth punctuations, but everything works well together.
The performances on the disc are first-rate. The ensemble has a wonderful sense of blend and a smooth, rich sound overall. The cohesiveness in their playing makes every piece shine, shimmer, and sparkle regardless of compositional language. I can’t wait to hear more from them!
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