Archive for the “Innova” Category
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.
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Andrew Violette, keyboards; Gregor Kitzis, electric violin; Curtis Macomber, violin
I have been listening to this CD a lot over the past weeks. The music, a constant barrage of keyboard textures and soaring violin melodies, is dense and thick without much downtime through the 75 minutes. The twenty-two sections fall upon you like waves at the beach during a hurricane. At times, the sensation is glorious and enlightening. At other times, you just want to stop and catch your breath for a few minutes. But Mr. Violette is in charge here and he doesn’t want to stop Rave for anything. This isn’t music that gets stuck in your head, it is music that gets stuck in your mind.
The comparisons that you read about Mr. Violette’s music being a fusion of Messaien and prog rock are spot on. The emotions are big, the sonic walls that he places around you are enormous, and he is thoroughly committed to making this experience happen. He does not rave lightly.
As the onslaught of music went on, certain moments really stood out. Track 7, “Hollywood” takes all the textural and hectic noodling to an utterly gorgeous Romantic climax. It comes out of almost nowhere but, once it starts, you realize that everything you have been listening to has been inexorably leading to this moment. It is glorious.
After this moment, the next palpable shift is during tracks 12 and 13, where fragments of Beethoven’s 5th arrive in the violin. This quote does not feel as musically justified as the lush Romanticism of track 7, but I think that is part of the point (please note that if you put the CD into your computer you can read the 23 page thesis that describes each section in gruesome detail. I scanned through this but did not read the whole document. Yet.). Once the Beethoven motive enters, the tone of Rave changes. It is hard to put your ears directly on what or why this change has occurred because the texture remains constant throughout. And yet, there is a change. The rest of the work seems darker and more ominous. There is no further drive to another emotional peak like in tracks 1 – 7. Rave seems to dance madly onward but in a more disturbed manner.
Due to heavy amounts of overdubbing, there is a constant virtuosic piano scramble in the background. After a while the piano becomes this grey backdrop for the violins and almost ceases to have its own life anymore. I found it slightly disturbing that SO MUCH was going on in those pianos and yet taking it all in would have lead to my madness. On the one hand, this texture is brilliant because it is never-ending and never flinches, as you would expect from a rave’s energy. On the other, sometimes I wanted the pianos to shut the heck up for a minute and let me digest it all. I think that is the desired effect.
The performances on Rave are high caliber. Not too many people can put together such a solid 75 minutes of virtuosity. This piece will drive some mad and drive others to Nirvana (the place, not the band…although some might want to hear some Nirvana after hearing all of Rave…). I’m not sure where I am with it yet. It is almost too much to take in. The experience certainly hangs in my brain and haunts me at night. I think that Rave is an artistic success on many levels and, like a David Lynch film, everyone is going to walk away from the experience with something different. Rave is not for the squeamish, but those who take it on will be entranced.
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MILLIKAN: Trens Coloridos Para Gabriela; Three Reflections; Red Migration; The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith; Cantando Para A Oní§a; 221B Baker Street. California EAR Unit/Marc Lowenstein. Innova 663. 60 minutes.
This disc is my first encounter with Ann Millikan’s music, and I’m pretty impressed. She knows instruments, has a good command of harmony and structure, and a solid sense of style. Make that “styles”. There’s a little something here for everyone. Ms. Millikan’s eclectic music moves seamlessly (usually) between such diverse stylistic poles as late modernism, totalism, jazz, and expanded tonality.
My favorite piece is Red Migration, a taut (seven and a half minutes packed with incident) exploration of the emotions involved with moving halfway across the country. The gestures and recurring motives are vivid and expressive, and as with everything else on the disc, expertly written for the instruments.
Less successful, for me at least, is 221B Baker Street, which is, in the composer’s words, a “quirky jazz/rock detective story inspired by the brilliant Sherlock Holmes series portrayed by Jeremy Brett”. It’s built on a 5:4 groove but seemed less groovy than that. It may be that I’ve been listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder lately and his grooves are more satisfying.
The California EAR Unit gives incredibly clean and committed performances and Innova’s sound is clear and detailed. Recommended.
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Brian Sacawa, saxophones
Piece in the Shape of a Square,
Philip Glass Pre-Amnesia,
Lee Hyla pastlife laptops and attic instruments,
Erik Spangler Netherland,
Chris Theofanidis Bacchanalia Skiapodorum,
Derek Hurst Voice Within Voice,
Keeril Makan The Low Quartet,
is, without doubt, a CD you need. The performances by Mr. Sacawa are amazing and the music selected is equally so. This is music that every sax player you know needs to perform and that every music listener you know needs to hear.
The first track is an arrangement of Piece in the Shape of a Square (aka Music in the Shape of a Square) and it is hard to imagine that Glass didn’t write it for the saxophone. Mr. Sacawa’s performance is light and effervescent with a great attention to energy. This is “old school” minimalism (whatever that means) at its finest.
The next piece, Pre-Amneisa by Lee Hyla is angular, disjointed, and tremendously captivating. Mr. Sacawa is nimble, musical, and effortless throughout. There are two things about the piece I don’t like: it is too short (I want more! I usually listen to this one 2 or 3 times before going on) and the performance sounds so smooth that many people will think it was easy to play.
Just as the first two pieces on the recording are very different from each other, the third piece is different still. Erik Spagler’s pastlife laptops and attic instruments includes a tape part and live turntables (performed here by Mr. Spagler’s alter ego DJ Dubble8). This piece is funky, lyrical, and sounds more like free improv than it really is. Lots of great beats and textures provide wonderful counterpoint to Mr. Sacawa’s soaring lines. I’m not sure I’m in tune with the dramatic shape of this track, but there are a lot of moments throughout that I love. Definitely worth multiple listens.
Chris Theofanidis’ Netherland is the most “traditional” piece on the CD. The saxophone is set as the lyrical focal point to Wenli Zhou’s piano accompaniment. These two movements are strong, striking and wonderfully melodic.
Pulling the stylistic rug out from us yet again is Derek Hurst’s Bacchanalia Skiapodorum for sax and tape. Once again, Mr. Sacawa takes spastic rhythmic bursts and makes them sound fluid, organic, and darn-near easy. The tape part, made largely from sax samples, provides a disjunct and angular commentary on the live performance. Some of the sounds recall the more “vintage” sound worlds of earlier Davidovsky or Subotnick with the same flair for interaction and texture. This piece is rich, fun, and energetic.
Voice Within Voice once again takes a completely different approach to the instrument. According to the notes, the sax is being used as a “megaphone for the performer’s singing and breathing.” The end result is a piece haunting and mesmerizing. My one regret is that I haven’t seen this piece live. I can only imagine the theatrical intensity required. Truly stunning stuff.
Finally, we have Michael Gordon’s The Low Quartet arranged for low saxes (with a contrabass providing that extra bottom octave when needed). If that isn’t reason enough for you to get this disc, then I don’t know what else to say. The low saxes are, in my humble opinion, the best saxes. And Michael Gordon’s piece is fun, quirky, rhythmic, and absolutely awesome.
Brian Sacawa has done a masterful job performing and selecting music that showcase his instrument in as many different ways as possible. Each piece is radically different than the one before it and equally different to the one that follows. All of them are played with an ease and virtuosity that almost defies logic. This is an excellent recording. Period.
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Move in the Changing Light
Music by Phillip Schroeder
Amy McGinty, soprano; Robert Best, baritone; Daniel Cline, cello; Phillip Schroeder, piano, synthesizer, electric bass, percussion, and digital delays
Phillip Schroeder’s music is sparkly, calm, and extremely listenible. The seven works on this disc all feature multiple pianos (all performed by the composer) often processed with digital delays which add to the tinkly effervescent harmonies. The musical consistency of style on this recording is unlike anything else I have experienced. Listeners will know within 15 seconds if they will like this CD or not. Either you fall into the shimmering caverns of soothing textures and drown in over an hour of it or you’ll say “this is not for me” and walk away. There is no “bait and switch” or “buy my popular piece and let me throw these other lesser compositions at you” to this disc. Every moment is pure Schroeder.
The compositional unity is strengthened by the fact that all pieces were composed (or at least completed) in 2004 and 2005. Two pieces, Move in the Changing Light 2 and Move in the Changing Light 1 bookend the CD. The only difference between the two is the inclusion of Amy McGinty’s innocent soprano vocalise on #2. They each call for 5 pianos with digital delays and synthesizer, all played by the composer.
The one aberration (if you can call it that) is the miniature Make a Distinction for piano (no delays) and synth. It clocks in at a mere 59 seconds instead of the typical 8-12 minute duration of the other pieces. I have a strong suspicion that this was inspired by Robert Voisey’s most excellent 60×60 concerts, but it is just a hunch. Other than length, the piece does not differ in musical language and makes a nice centerpiece for the album.
The musical consistency, as I said before, is astonishing. This collection of pieces is one of the most single-minded batches of music that I’ve heard recently. This unity can, at times, be a liability as well as an asset. On casual listening, one never really knows when one piece is over and the other one begins. Depending on your point of view, that can be good. Sometimes I question why these 7 different pieces aren’t, in fact, one single work. Each piece has such a similar function, harmonic palette, and subdued dramatic shape, that I’m not sure what one gets out of hearing these as seven separate works as opposed to a single 62 minute epic. Done correctly, I’m sure that Mr. Schroeder’s next opus could be like 6 Sorabjis on quaaludes.
Since the composer’s hands are all over the performances, too, it makes me wonder what these pieces would sound like in a live environment. The monolithic piano textures would benefit from the idiosyncratic touches of an ensemble. Sheer logistics explains why a single piano was used for the recording: Mr. Schroeder teaches at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas and the instrument was a Bōsendorfer Imperial Grand. I sincerely doubt that HSU has 5 of the Bad Villagers squirreled away. I would, nevertheless, prefer to hear these pieces live and wallow in an even richer pool of piano sparkles.
This music pours the listener into a meditative and serene mood and wraps them soundly within the safe confines of its language. If you want serenity, you need not buy a single other CD in your lifetime.
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Jeremy Beck, composer
Rayanne Dupuis, soprano
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, Conductor
Pause & Feel & Hark
Jeremy Beck, composer
Emilio Colon, Heather Coltman, Elizabeth Sadilek, Gretchen Brumwell, Jean McDonald, Robin Guy, performers
I’ve listened to two albums from the composer Jeremy Beck, who grew up in Quincy, IL and trained at the old Mannes College of Music on E. 74th Street. My overall impression of his music is that it is fairly traditional, competent, pleasant overall to listen to, and expertly written for a variety of instruments. None of his music on these two albums breaks any new ground; hence, my sense that he is more of a traditional composer. I sense affinities at times with Copland, Barber, and perhaps even Roy Harris, all of whom are great composers to emulate.
I liked the music on Wave better than on the other album. Wave contains three works:
- State of the Union 1992
- Sinfonietta 2000
- Death of a Little Girl with Doves 1998
Sinfonietta is my favorite on this album. Set for strings, it sounds much like the great string orchestra music of Copland. None of the movements exceeds five minutes, and the music holds together quite nicely. Not particularly distinctive or memorable, to be sure, but still a good work to listen to.
I loved the title of State of the Union, which was written as a protest against Bush 1. I think it holds true for Bush 2, but that’s besides the point. The music for full orchestra is well constructed and expertly scored. Again, it harks back to the 40′s and 50′s in many ways, but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
I found it harder to get into Death of a Little Girl with Doves, written for soprano and orchestra, but it is still worthwhile. It reminded me in some ways of Barber’s evocative Knoxville, Summer of 1915, but without as much emotional density.
The second album, pause and feel and hark, contains works for a variety of paired instruments, including cello, harp and flute. The music is again expertly written from a technical perspective and nice to listen to. But while the individual works (sonata no. 3 “moon”, songs without words, black water) are pleasant enough, nothing in particular grabbed me.
There is nothing wrong, to be certain, with writing music that is more traditional and status quo, particularly if it is expressive. Many of us on the new music scene still dig our dose of Copland, Bernstein, Piston, and other “standard” American composers of the past fifty years. But at some point, I think that people like Copland, Harris and Barber wrote great music by finding their own voice, even with the similarities among them. They also wrote for their time. Brahms wrote amazing music. But should a German composer in 2006 write music in the same style? I’m not sure.
So I think the music I’ve heard from Jeremy Beck represents music that is expertly written and evocative of a past era. The dilemma is that all I keep thinking about as I hear this music are works by other composers I really like from that time. And while I liked much of what I heard on these two albums, none of it sticks in my mind, and none of it took me to another plane. The best works of Copland, like his Dance Symphony or Piano Variations, grab me in a big way. These two CDs didn’t grab me in the same way, but did keep me listening attentively. And that’s not bad.
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