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Flightpatterns

Open Graves with Stuart Dempster

Prefecture Records, PREFECTURE004

 

The ominously lit photo on the cover of Flightpatterns – a recent release from Open Graves, a West Coast-based improvisation duo – depicts the uniquely overriding characteristic of the album: where it was recorded. Gas lamps and candles cast soft glows on a variety of percussion instruments resting inside an enormous abandoned water cistern in Port Towsend, Washington, the site where Open Graves’ Jesse Olsen and Paul Kikuchi teamed with renowned trombonist Stuart Dempster for this suspenseful and dark series of improvisations.

The album’s liner notes identify, “a wide range of traditional and invented instruments” and, “unusual acoustic environments”, as two of Open Graves’ strongest artistic pursuits. Yet, it seems the idea for using the cistern as a recording space may have come from their collaborator. Allaboutjazz.com’s Mark Corotto implies as much in his February 2011 review of Flightpatterns, noting that Dempster’s 1995 recording, Underground Overlays From The Cistern Chapel (New Albion), started a trend of site-specific improvisations, to which Flightpatterns may simply be the latest contributor. The sonic fingerprint the performance space lends the album’s four tracks is captivating and indelible, casting a translucence over the music as if we are looking at the sound through wax paper, or listening underwater. Again, Corotto speaks to this rather eloquently in his review, writing, “time must be slowed, giving a protracted feel to the performance. Dempster’s long drawn-out trombone notes act as a blanket…so lovely, that you might find yourself holding your breath.”

To me, the effect of the cistern’s reverberations on the music was twofold. The constant level of echo blurred the lines of musical phrases, much like how shadows projected on a distant cave wall distort an object’s original shape and identity. These resonant acoustic conditions produced music beautiful in a way I had never heard before. Everything sublimely bled together, softened out by the airspace inside the cistern. Olsen, Kikuchi and Dempster’s instruments melded together, moving as one amorphous musical body through time, shaded multifariously as the album went along by a constant variety of percussion sounds.

Unfortunately, I felt the obvious intransigence of the cistern’s acoustic undermined much of Flightpatterns’s wonder and beauty. Around three-quarters of the way through the disc my ears were plane tired of the ambience. At its worst, I was reminded of my first forays in electronic music where I sheepishly swathed all my musical layers with the same EQ or reverb, denying the individuality of my components to speak through this acoustic surface. I was pained as Flightpatterns wrapped up because I knew Olsen, Kikuchi and Dempster’s virtuosity and musical sensibility are absolutely admirable, but had been largely washed out by the unwavering sonic environment of the recording.

Despite this qualm, I highly recommend the disc to all lover’s of improvised music and supporters of unconventional music presentation. Olsen, Kikuchi and Dempster have hit on an interesting thread in the world of contemporary music with Flightpatterns, even if they just hit a double instead of a grand slam. I’m talking about site-specific performances and other musical-environmental integrations. Again, I’m drawn to the world of electronic music where Roger Reynolds, for example, tediously designs spatial elements into his electro-acoustic scores and has been involved in many site-specific performances including a November 2010 event at the National Gallery in Washington, DC. Michael Gordon’s smash multimedia orchestral work, Decaysia, and the recent series of New York Philharmonic concerts at the Park Avenue Armory also illustrate the grandeur certain kinds of physical space can lend a live performance of contemporary music.

Flightpatterns demonstrates the potential value of designing albums around special acoustic environments. Immediately, the album’s intrigue and surface appeal blossoms in light of of Open Graves’ imaginative use of the empty water cistern as a recording studio. Despite the evident danger of casting the music in a monochromatic reverb throughout the length of the disc, Flightpatterns is a bold exploration of physical and musical resonance. Alluring and chilling at once, the CD’s tracks will undoubtedly leave you with aural goosebumps as the blurred identities of Stuart Demptser’s trombone and Open Grave’s multi-instrumental accompaniment will press the boundaries of your music-listening imagination.

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The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble Performs Terry Riley’s “in C”

The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble

SLEE 001

One of the earliest examples of minimalism and process music, Terry Riley’s seminal 1964 composition in C is beautifully recast in the Salt Lake City Electric Ensemble’s 2010 recording, “The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble Perform Terry Riley’s in C”. SLEE’s version for “laptop orchestra” is dominated by the synthesized timbre of contemporary dance music, and garnishes Riley’s concept with the flavor of Ratatat and other mainstays of the electronic rock genre. Led by Matt Dixon, the 8-man group relies on overdubbing and sophisticated music software to produce a vibrant electro-acoustic aural tapestry weaving together a variety of percussion instruments and computerized elements.

The album’s liner notes contain a brief summary of the work’s performance instructions – the piece has 53 numbered phrases of differing lengths, the performers play through these in order but are free to repeat the phrases as many times as they wish. Above this explanation was a reflective and compelling quote from the composer, “Essentially my contribution was to introduce repetition into Western music as the main ingredient without any melody over it, without anything, just repeated patterns, musical patterns.” In many ways, in C is a picture-perfect representation of Riley’s mindset: given the simple melodic and harmonic elements he employs, phrase repetition is the most dramatic musical variable in each performance.

With this said, I was intrigued SLEE included these words from Terry Riley in the recording’s liner notes. To me, Riley’s mantra implies dissolving the traditional musical hierarchy, replacing a directional structure of melody and accompaniment with constant repetitions and an abstract form. The heterophonic texture that dominates SLEE’s interpretation of in C reflects the anarchy and freedom that undertone Riley’s philosophy; yet, the work has a clear direction. Bear in mind the performers are required to play through the 53 phrases in order. Much like Morton Feldman’s Why Patterns?, leadership in the performance is obscured by the fact that every player is moving at a different rate, nevertheless it is clear Terry Riley – and Feldman – imagined a firm structural gravity pulling the piece from its beginning to its end.

The Salt Lake Electric Ensemble’s recording of in C honors the work’s underlying momentum with changes in color and varying rhythmic backdrops in the acoustic percussion parts, which for most of the piece sound like rock drum beats. I am not sure how the unpitched percussion parts fit into the scheme behind in C, but I felt the style of the drum parts – in particular – was responsible for the hue of dance music I mentioned before. SLEE’s version of in C feels more like electronica than minimalism and highlights the conscious or accidental similarities between minimalism and many styles of popular music. The coloristic change from beginning to end is even more dramatic, insofar as the performers incorporate more and more computer white noise, the kind of sound I’ve heard from placing a contact microphone on a computer while it is processing data. Similar to the percussion parts, there is no mention of how these free sound elements are reconciled in Riley’s score; though, these elements are critical to the work’s formal clarity.

These characteristics seem like a fitting modern tribute to Riley’s spirit of indeterminacy and repetition. Although the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble’s performance of in C is not traditional, the work itself is meant to challenge tradition, at least the traditions of the time in which it was written. Ironically, with the large selection of recordings available, it seems in C is becoming canonized as it approaches 50 years of existence. The piece born to countermand the melodic traditions of Western music is gaining a reputation similar to the 19th-century masterpieces orchestras and soloist love to re-record and re-perform with the hopes of lending their own special fingerprints to the music. Consider this CD from the Salt Lake Electric Ensemble a wilder interpretation of a classic in the minimalist canon, displaying the longevity of Riley’s style alongside this unusual group’s broad spectrum of musical expression.

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CD cover artThe NYFA Collection

25 Years of New York New Music

various composers and performers

innova records

This collection is simultaneously easy and impossible to review. A simple glance at the track listing for these five discs make the set an easy purchase. Rarely have I seen so many important names corralled into one place. What I truly marvel at is how well innova collects and arranges the music on these CDs. Such a diverse collection of composers and music could be done in a ramshackle and chaotic fashion but innova knows better than that. Each disc has a tone and a sound world to it, making the set one of five good CDs instead of a good set of 5 CDs. Disc A gathers percussive or electronic music (or both, as necessary). Disc B features keyboard or flute works as well as a brilliant bit of programming that morphs from Robert Dick’s flute music to David Simons’ CIPHER through other flute and shakuhachi pieces. Disc C is largely jazz or folk inspired, including a surprising Augusta Read Thomas piano work which comes across as a hyper-caffeinated Irving Berlin as the final track. Vocal ensemble music as well as mixed instrumental chamber music make up disc D and the final disc collects more traditional ensembles including full orchestra will chorus.

This anthology of pieces has something for every aesthetic and sensibility. The performances sound excellent and are often by the composer or are otherwise as close to definitive as possible. Seriously, just look at the track listing and you will want to have it.

CD-A
1. Annie Gosfield: Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds Back
2. David van Tieghem: Waiting for the Gizmo – No.1
3. Joseph Bertolozzi: “Meltdown” from Bridge Music
4. Lois V Vierk/Anita Feldman: Hexa
5. Bruce Gremo: ScascadeHo
6. Lukas Ligeti: Triangulation
7. Joel Chadabe: Solo
8. Jose Halac: BLOWN 2 Nicolas Maza
9. Samuel Claiborne: Viola Breath
10. Iconoclast: Accidental Touching
11. Elliott Sharp: Cryptid Fragments
12. Stefan Tcherepnin: Ouvretorture

CD-B
1. Meredith Monk, arr. Anthony de Mare: Urban March (Shadow) Anthony de Mare
2. Annea Lockwood: RCSC. Sarah Cahill
3. John Morton: The Parting
4. Robert Dick: Eyewitness Flute Force
5. Sorrel Hays: On The Wind Andrew Bolotowsky
6. Elizabeth Brown: “Loons” from Isle Royale Shakuhachi Duets
7. Daniel Goode: Tuba Thrush Flexible Orchestra
8. David Simons: CIPHER Downtown Ensemble
9. JG Thirlwell: 10 Ton Shadow
10. Anne LeBaron, Wadada Leo Smith, Peter van Bergen: An Even Loan
11. Eric John Eigner: Music for Faucet
12. Monteith McCollum: Flight

CD-C
1. Iconoclast: No Wave Bitte Julie Joslyn, Leo Ciesa
2. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Are There Clouds in India?
3-4. Fred Ho: I Wor Kuen, No Home to Return to. Afro-Asian Music Ensemble
5. BLOB: Robust Bog. John Lindberg, Ted Orr, Harvey Sorgen, Ralph Carney
6. Sidiki Conde: Moriba Djassa
7. John Lindberg: Skip. Tripolar
8. Howard Prince: Pipe Dream
9. Newman Taylor Baker: Bosom of Abraham
10. Laura Kahle: Daize
11. BLOB: Mire
12. Augusta Read Thomas: Love Twitters. Nicola Melville

CD-D
1. Andy Teirstein: Rhapsody for Boy Soprano and Strings Interschools String Orchestra of New York
2. Bora Yoon: g i f t
3. Mary Jane Leach: Night Blossoms. Kiitos
4. Pauline Oliveros: Sound Patterns and Tropes. University of Wisconsin-River Falls Concert Choir and Percussion Quartet
5. Aaron Jay Kernis: Ecstatic Meditation 4. Volti
6. Paul Motian, arr. Joel Harrison: It Should Have Happened
7. Judith Sainte Croix: Los Pajaros Blancos de la Noche Profunda. Sonora Trio
8. Ray Leslee: Nocturne. Ashley Horne, Barbara Bilach
9. Roberto Sierra: Cronicas 3; Cancion. Society for New Music
10. Jeff Raheb: Zu Twa Szi 4 Laurel Ann Maurer, Peter Matthews
11. Eve Beglarian: We Two + Corey Dargel, Cristian Amigo

CD-E
1-2. Raphael Mostel: Night and Dawn. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Ensemble; Ivan Meylemans, conductor
3-6. George Tsontakis: Gymnopedies. Concert: nova
7. Randall Woolf: Franz Schubert. Esther Noh, Jennifer Choi, Orlando Wells, Joanne Lin
8. Jay Anthony Gach: La Vita Autunnale. MONTAGE Music Society
9. Peter Golub: Less Than a Week Before Christmas. Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra and Chamber Choir
10. Neil Rolnick: “The Gathering” from Extended Family ETHEL
11-13. Lisa Bielawa: Trojan Women. Miami String Quartet
14. Joan Tower: Tambor. Nashville Smphony, Leonard Slatkin

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Poul Ruders

The Music of Poul Ruders: Volume 6

Bridge Records #9336

Poul Ruders has been present on my listening radar for a couple years, but I hadn’t really dived into his music until I listened to this CD. From the album’s contents – Piano Concerto No. 2, Bel Canto for solo violin, Serenade On The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean for string quartet and accordion – and the other works of Ruders I’m familiar with – Fairytale and the second Piano Sonata – it is clear he possesses a uniquely compelling musical sensibility. Both cumulatively and individually, the works on this CD demonstrated a Ruders’ flawless dramatic sense and his ability to convey his rhetoric with a wide and sincere range of musical expressions.

The album’s first composition, Piano Concerto No. 2, stood out to me so strongly, it has become one of my favorite piano concertos – at least as a knee-jerk reaction. This work seems particularly concerned with sonic color and does not attempt to develop a traditional soloist-ensemble dialogue. For example – instead of conversing with the orchestra – the piano pulls its accompaniment more and more quickly through time (in the first movement) and then uses the timbres of the orchestra to inflect intimate and bold passages (in the second movement). Beyond its world-class piano writing, the Piano Concerto No. 2 explores timbre in a clever and fresh way, namely in the second movement where Ruders melds the sounds of the piano and orchestra into a colorful monster of musical lyricism and force.

The remaining works on the CD are starkly subdued beside the scale of the Piano Concerto No. 2. Bel Canto, for solo violin, is the next composition on the album and is cut from the same cloth of musical intimacy as the primary material in the Piano Concerto No. 2’s second movement. The piece is deliberately beautiful and, as a result, drifts into the sound world of neo-romanticism yet it retains Ruders’ ineffable aural fingerprints. Bel Canto is unabashedly beautiful, but Ruders doesn’t abandon the melodic and textural spontaneity that is present in many of his more intense pieces. Here, in the place of the crashing brass chords or wild changes in orchestral colors we hear in Fairytale, Concerto in Pieces, and the second Piano Concerto, Ruders decorates Bel Canto’s folk-inspired melodies with dissonant double stops and left-hand pizzicati, transforming what could be trite or saccharine into pure Poul Ruders.

The CD’s final composition, Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean, is similarly subdued in tone to Bel Canto but is much more earnest and even wild at times. The unusual instrumentation – accordion and string quartet – made my roommate cock and eyebrow when he saw the CD on our dining table, but it is an impressively compatible timbral marriage, at least in Ruders’ hands. According to the liner notes, Ruders based this work’s title on Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and designed the music’s coloristic sphere to insinuate an upward gaze, perusing the night sky. Serenade summates the dense stylistic topography outlined in the CD’s first two compositions by mashing together frenetic chromaticism, dark amorphous harmonies and pure diatonicism. More the once, Ruders finds textures and techniques that meld the accordion and strings together, creating a unified ensemble sound I did not expect. Some moments bring the instruments back to reality, so to speak, like the fifth – dubbed “Stardust” – which gradually applies increasingly dissonant suspensions to an accordion background that starts out as a clear resemblance to a street corner organ grinder’s music, but slowly melts away into abstraction.

Despite sudden, brief explosions of instensity, Serenade on the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean is mostly mysterious and subtle. With respect to this album’s entire contents, Ruders’ ability to produce such compelling yet clearly delineated musical imprints from one piece to another is undeniably laudable, particularly given the expansive musical palette on which he draws. I find it particularly respectable that – although he may drift towards widely  accepted musical categories – Ruders’ musical idiosyncrasy wards off all but the most indirect “-isms”.

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Alvin Lucier

Almost New York

Pogus Productions P21057-2

Almost New York represents the latest chapter in Alvin Lucier’s migration away from the world of experimental electronic music, a move he began in the 1980s. Mr. Lucier chronicles the challenges he faced achieving working with acoustic instruments in the CD’s liner notes, ultimately discussing the microtonal impulses at the heart of the music featured on this album. The four works on the recordings two discs – Twonings, Almost New York, Broken Line and Coda Variations – are thoughtful explorations in extreme subtlety. The slow transformation typifying these pieces comes as no surprise reading the end of Mr. Lucier’s prose introduction to the CD: one of his principal inspirations was the natural out-of-tune-ness symptomatic to performances of Morton Feldman’s protracted String Quartet #2, “by the end…the instruments have drifted a little out of tune – there being now time to re-tune during a live performance – acquiring a patina that comes with age.”

Twonings, the CD’s first track, exemplifies the techniques Mr. Lucier applies in the album’s other compositions. The work is written for cello and piano and explores the slight discrepancies in pitch between the piano’s equal temperament and the assigned just intonation in the cello part. The notes for this work specifically site the, “acoustic phenomena” and “audible beating” that should result from the music’s attempted unisons. Indeed, the performance serves this goal with loyalty: cellist Charles Curtis and pianist Joseph Kubera deliver the music in a disciplined manner devoid of traditional expressivity, which makes the friction between the two instrument’s tunings more dramatic.

The album’s title track, Almost New York, sadly seems like the kind of piece I wish I could witness in a concert. Written for one flutist rotating between five flutes, this piece uses pure wave oscillators to create a kind of synthetic drone against which the flutist plays long tones. After each note, the performer is supposed to switch to a different type of flute, walking around the performance space as he or she cycles through instruments. Clearly, this is the kind of thing you want to be in the room for, but sound engineer Tom Hamilton simulates the spatial effects very well with panning. Like Twonings before it, Almost New York focuses on the microtonal differences between multiple voices, in this case the flute and slowly sliding up and down oscillators. Flutist Robert Dick delivers a performance similar in its sparse character to that of the previous track. As we have seen, of course, this style is important to Mr. Lucier’s compositions given the subtle ideas he transforms over the course of each work.

The third tack, Broken Line, is the most rhythmically active of the whole album and is scored for Vibraphone, piano and Flute. Rhetorically, however, the work is a duo inasmuch as Joseph Kubera’s piano and percussionist Danny Tunick‘s vibraphone are used in tandem as a fixed-pitch wall against which the extended glissandi Robert Dick’s modified flute constantly abrades. Broken Line essentially represents a role-reversal from Almost New York as the flute challenges the fixed intonation of the piano and vibraphone. The most concise work on the CD at 12:21, Broken Line’s instrumentation alludes to Morton Feldman’s Why Patterns?. Though it possesses a different process than Mr. Feldman’s work, Broken Line is a similarly persuasive advocate for moment-form music and – thanks to its rhythmic activity – is the most accessible representative of this compositional style on the album.

Mr. Lucier’s connection to Morton Feldman’s music and philosophy coalesces in Almost New York’s final track, Coda Variations, which is based on the solo tuba coda from Mr. Feldman’s Durations 3. Mr. Lucier’s Variations takes the eight notes and double fermata from Durations and, “[subjects them] to seven sets of permutations of sixty three notes each.” The variations incorporate special microtonal fingerings on the tuba developed by the performer, Robin Hayward, and composer Marc Sabat. As you can see, Coda Variations plays on the same subtle theme of intonation as the rest of the album, but presents the changes in a slowly unfolding melodic line, not in the vertical dissonances of the earlier tracks. This makes listening to Coda Variations an exercise in concentration, much like it must be performing a composition that develops so subtly over such a long period of time.

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Kris Becker

Inventions

Frozen Heat #FH1001

Houston-based Composer/Pianist Kris Becker’s recently released album Inventions presents an overwhelmingly wide spectrum of musical genres, it is hard to believe one mind is responsible for all of it. Within, listeners will find rock songs, jazz ballads, and finely crafted style studies of J.S. Bach surrounding the over-arching jazz-infused neo-romanticism that seems to be at the heart of Mr. Becker’s musical personality. Proudly fusing popular idioms with beloved sounds from art music’s past, Inventions is a daring cross-genre musical endeavor; and, though it may overload your ears with variety, Inventions is a pleasantly memorable, moving and successful achievement.

All the music on Inventions is expertly performed, elegantly produced and solidly composed, making is undeniably evident that Kris Becker is a uniquely talented musician. There is very little to criticize in terms of pure content: nearly every track, regardless of genre, succeeded both as a representative of its given style and an isolated musical object. The two rock songs, “Feel the Truth” and “Try”, were well done and absolutely convincing on a musical level: they sounded like rock songs written by rock musicians, not a composer’s vain attempt at rock music. More impressive were the two alternate recordings of the song “If Ever Two Were One”, the first of which was done in a sultry, slow jazz style and the second was totally transformed into an art song a la Ned Rorem. Both Mr. Becker and his vocalist Sarah Welch amazed me with their fully persuasive metamorphosis from one style to another, which made these two tracks among the hallmarks of the entire album.

The rest of the tracks on the CD are solo piano compositions performed by Mr. Becker. Though not highly chromatic or modernist in any way, these works reflect a variety of influences and allude to a deep love of 19th-Century classicism, all types of Jazz and niche popular styles, such as musical theater. To this end, these compositions almost act as a commentary on the rock and jazz songs that start the album, almost like Mr. Becker has chosen to distill and abstract those formalized styles through his virtuosity at the piano.

The first of these pieces is Fanfare for Life, a highly rhythmic, moto-perpetuo work with sweeping harmonies and a step-wise melody set against blurry pan-diatonic ostinati. Both in content and form, Fanfare for Life typifies the pseudo-improvisatory, neo-tonal style I think is very close to Mr. Becker’s heart. Though allusions to jazz and neo-classicism are strongly present themes on this album, it is undeniable after that the mood and character of Fanfare for Life are closely tied to Mr. Becker’s truest impulses. In fact, the next work on the CD, Four Curiosities, ‘composes out’ many of the musical ideas set forth in Fanfare for Life, whether a focus of poppy syncopated rhythms in the first and last movements Anticipation and Groovin’ or melding a love of Baroque and Jazz music in the bluesy second movement Passacaglia.

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It is apparent from the beginning of Composer Bruce Wolosoff’s new NAXOS recording with the Carpe Diem QuartetSongs without Words – that Mr. Wolosoff’s music fits into the fringe of a larger trend in contemporary American music: the fusion of popular and traditional idioms. Whereas one player in this movement, Bang-On-A-Can, attempts to distill the visceral dynamism of punk rock with instrumental amplification and driving rhythms, Mr. Wolosoff  is more transparent, and explicitly references jazz, blues and pop styles. What is also clear within the first couple tracks of this album is the genre of Songs without Words: divertimento. Mr. Wolosoff’s sentimental melodies, circular harmonic progressions and repetitive structures update a brand of crowd-pleasing music dating back to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Along these lines, the liner notes describe Songs without Words as “amiably crossing musical borders”, and there are two principal musical regions Mr. Wolosoff explores through the prism of the Carpe Diem Quartet: blues and classic pop rock.

The first of these allusions is communicated through pentatonic and blues-based melodies and the typifying inflections one would expect from a blues guitarist or bluegreass fiddle player. The movement “Dancing on my Grave” is probably the best example of this in the whole set, and is a traditional blues jam with a rocking bass line with improvisatory melodies above it, culminating with a classic blues bass progression. In contrast, “The Letter” is the purest rock ‘n’ roll movement, and uses the I – vi – IV – V harmonic progression common to 1950s bubblegum pop ballads to exemplify the other category of Mr. Wolosoff’s musical references.

The remaining 16 movements in Songs without Words are somewhere in between these stylistic extremes. For example, “Cat Scratch Fever” references 1970s hard rock with its title and its use of parallel fifth ‘power chords’ in the cello’s ostinato bass line. Similarly, “Creepalicious” has much more abstract musical material than the other movements of the set but employs the same simple phrase structures, maintaining a strong connection to Mr. Wolosoff’s popular influences while distinguishing the movement’s content from its neighbors.

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Tangled Pipes

Consortium5, Recorder Quintet

Nonclassical #nonclss008

Kathryn Corrigan, Inga Maria Klauke, Oonagh Lee, Gail Macleod, Roselyn Maynard, recorders



I’ll admit my initially skeptical reaction to receiving English recorder quintet Consortium5’s album Tangled Pipes was parochial. After all, is there a more stigmatized instrument in the American musical conscience than the recorder? Well before I listened to the CD, I was fearful of its tracks recalling horrifying memories of the ignorant squeaks that filled my elementary school music class. However, I was quickly rebuffed by Consortium5’s otherworldly sound. Listening to Tangled Pipes was one of the most pleasantly surprising audience experiences I’ve had in a long time. Not only did the new recorder quintet music on Tangled Pipes reveal an uncharted world of timbre wavering between acoustic and electronic sounds, but the inclusion of hip and well produced track remixes also made the album a unique musical object I’m happy to own.

It is really hard for me to describe the different sounds you’ll encounter when you listen to Tangled Pipes. True, the instruments are all recorders, just like you would hear on an authentically performed concert of baroque or renaissance music; however, Consortium5 uses them in ways I could have never imagined. Many of the tracks, such as Darren Bloom’s Consorts and Richard Lannoy’s Tangled Pipes use percussive sounds akin to tongue rams and concise over-blowing on a flute. Mr. Bloom’s piece also uses remarkable glissandi and double-tongued licks that transport these ostensibly humble instruments to a vibrant and relevant sound world. Along the same lines, Brian Inglis uses overblowing, multiphonics, key clicks and flutter-tonguing to create contrasting ritornellos against the traditional counterpoint and folksy chorale around which his work, Burmese Pictures, rotates.

The four remaining pieces I have to discuss seem less like they hoped to show off the well kept secret of the recorder’s flexibility in terms of extended techniques and timbre. Rather, they are artfully crafted musical works enlivened by their unique instrumentation. Kathryn Butler’s Chanterelle, Brooks Frederickson’s ironically titled Quintet for Fifteen Recorders and Kim Ashton’s Dots harkened to the sound mass trends of the late 1960s and 1970s. Yet, the distinctive and beautiful freshness of Consortium5’s sound prevented these three compositions from sounding cliché, which may have happened had they been written for strings or another more commonplace ensemble. The final original work of the album – Luke StylesThree Stages – was a perfect capstone to the commissioned music featured on Tangled Pipes. Elegantly through-composed, Three Stages unwittingly refers to all the sounds and textures of the preceding tracks in a long-form exploration of contrasting musical images.

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Glint

Timothy McAllister, saxophone

Innova 764

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 BurhansEscape 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 AgócsAs 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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GVSU live at LPR

In C
Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble
Ghostly International + Wordless Music

Irrespective of genre, GVSU NME’s latest rendition of Terry Riley’s In C is one of the best live albums released in 2010. Recorded at a November, 2009 gig at Le Poisson Rouge, the group presents a 65-minute rendition of the piece: by no means as long as many performances, but far more luxurious than their taut rendition on the In C Remixed CD (Innova, 2009).

Unlike some postmodern interpretators, such as Acid Mother’s Temple, who do violence to the form of In C in an indulgent  misunderstanding of the open spirit of its performance instructions, GVSU NME have provided a thoughtful take on Riley’s intentions. It’s a reasonably faithful interpretation of the score’s flexible notation garbed in innovative instrumentation choices.

Though GVSU NME is, at its core, a 16-person group of contemporary classical musicians, there’s more than a bit of genre-bending going on here. The concert starts off with a skronk-filled free jazz introduction; perhaps a bit of an overstep, but a fascinating one! The performance also features an electronica component: the beats and effects of laptop performer Dennis DeSantis. Yet all of these disparate elements cohere into a rendition of In C that’s both impeccably prepared and frequently thrilling. It suggests that Riley’s mutable minimalist declaration still has the capacity to sound surprisingly fresh and eminently vital.

MP3: In C Live (excerpt)

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