Posts Tagged “chamber”

Simon Thacker’s Svara-KantiCD cover


Slap the Moon Records

Simon Thacker, guitar; Japjit Kaur, voice; Jacqueline Shave, violin; Sarvar Sabri, tabla

  • Thacker – Dhumaketu
  • Osborne – The Five Elements
  • Riley – SwarAmant
  • Korde – Anusvara – 6th Prism
  • Thacker – Svaranjali
  • Thacker – Multani
  • Thacker – Three Punjabi folksongs
  • Thacker – Rakshasa

The rich diversity of musical influences available in this world can yield truly inspired works which weave multiple threads into a single aural “rope” or works which use cursory cultural details out of the desire to sound “exotic.” Happily, Rakshasa is a work in the first category, bringing together musical elements into an attractive musical package.

Thacker’s compositional output on the disc reflects this polycultural synthesis with a delightful blend of traditional sounding Indian music with very Western harmonic progressions. Shave’s violin playing clearly draws from traditional Indian practices but to my ears her sound is only a slight nudge away from American fiddle technique. Kaur’s voice is bright and clean without ever becoming irritatingly nasal. Sabri’s tabla playing is direct, focused, and provides ample forward momentum when present.

As I am not an expert in music of India, I can’t speak much about the traditions surrounding the influences of each composition. The notes provide a wealth of guidance on all of these issues but I never found much need to refer to them in order for specific tracks to make sense. Everything on the disc makes sense as it is and left few questions that led to a need for research.

If I could point to a single track that represents the core of the music, I would choose Thacker’s compositions Svaranjali. The scales and rhythms used throughout this propulsive work are right on the edge of traditional ragas and something you might find on a Bela Fleck album. It isn’t that Thacker has “cleaned up” Indian rhythmic and pitch vocabulary to fit Western classical guitar tradition, Thacker instead draws on elements of both musics to shape a fiery and groovy piece.

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BassoonMusic   CD cover art

Peter Kolkay, bassoon

with Alexandra Nguyen, piano

CAG Records

  • BassoonMusic – George Perle
  • The Dark Hours – Judah Adashi
  • Andy Warhol Sez – Paul Moravec
  • Three Songs – Russell Platt
  • Seven Desert Elegies – John Fitz Rogers
  • Journey – Katherine Hoover

Bassoonists rarely feel the love in the contemporary music world. It seems like all the attention went towards the flute, clarinet, and saxophone leaving the double reeds to lurk in the corner of Baroque or 19th century repertoire. Sometimes they’ll break out the Zappa quote but for the most part the bassoon seems to be ignored outside of the Common Practice Period. This disc by bassoonist Peter Kolkay buts the breaks on that kind of thinking and reminds us that one of the most iconic and recognizable figures that gave birth to “contemporary music,” if you will, was a bassoon solo. How apt that the disc begins with George Perle’s BassoonMusic, an unaccompanied piece that uses the opening measures of Le sacre du printemps as one of its primary gestures. Amidst the Stravinsky quotes and transformation lies other contrasting materials that, if they aren’t directly from other famous bassoon excerpts, sound as if they were. Peter Kolkay is all over the instrument, his tone and articulations perfectly matched to the demands of the material. Not only is this work first on the disc, it is also the oldest work on the CD dating from way back in 2004. Kolkay has a brilliant lineup of pieces that show great composers are making extremely compelling cases for composers to write bassoon music (and for performers to play more modern stuff).

Judah Adashi’s The Dark Hours from 2007 is a meaty three movement work. The music is austere, lyrical, and rich with extended tonal harmonies. Even when very little is happening on the surface, my attention is always held fast by the music. Andy Warhol Sez by Paul Moravec is a series of playful miniatures separated by spoken Warhol quotes. Each miniature works well with neither too much or too little material and they reflect the various quotes nicely. I was a little turned off by the actual spoken quotes, though. I would have preferred to just hear the music and save the quotes for reading material.

Unaccompanied music returns with Russell Platt’s Three Songs, all short lovely movements that contemplate simple melodic shapes. The stark Seven Desert Elegies by John Fitz Rogers is held together more by a lugubrious ensemble momentum than virtuosic pyrotechnics. The duo coalesces into a single voice quite well on this piece. There are more fireworks in the shorter movements of Katherine Hoover’s Journey but again the bulk of the piece is based upon tender lyrical lines and a continuity of sound with the piano. Kolkay’s tone is entrancing. Not only do I listen to his melodic line, I get lost in the layers of overtones that emerge. Alexandra Nguyen’s piano work is fluid, gentle, and effortless. These two make quite a pairing and I look forward to hearing more releases by them.

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Build  CD Cover


Music by Matt McBane

New Amsterdam Records

  • Behavior Patterns
  • Dissolve
  • Ride
  • Swelter
  • Cleave
  • Anchor
  • Maintain

Build is Andrea Lee, cello; Ben Campbell, bass; Matt McBane, violin/composer; Michael Cassedy, piano; Adam D. Gold, drums/percussion.

Build’s second album is far from sophomoric.  I had the pleasure of reviewing their first album and I find this second release to keep all the best aspects of Matt McBane’s compositional voice and add more sophisticated instrumental textures and more compelling dramatic shapes. The strings have a more distributed use of pizzicato and bowed playing, tracks feature more subsets of the ensemble, the percussion is invigorated with a restrained use of the drum set and a broader sound palette of percussion instruments, and in general McBane employs more variety in the orchestrational vocabulary.  While each track stands squarely on its own, there are plenty of distinct dramatic chunks that cross over individual track boundaries. The ensemble plays with a tight sound, everyone in sync with the needs of the music before them.

Behavior Patterns establishes a fairly static yet compelling harmonic world.  Build does us the favor of NOT resolving these harmonies and just lets us chill in them for a while.  Dissolve then dissipates the tension left over from Behavior Patterns. In some ways, I hear a fond connection to side-scrolling video game music in the driving sections of Dissolve (I could totally play Ninja Gaiden to this) and a wonderful sense of release as Dissolve splashes down and does what the title suggested it was going to do.  Ride is a mellow flowing melodic interlude before the meatier Swelter set gets going.

The three Swelter tracks work as a single dramatic arc (fast, slow, fast) and Swelter 3 has been made available for free download. Swelter 1‘s frenetic and irregular groove is infinitely listenable, especially as the texture thins and the soaring cello melody rises over the top of said groove. Swelter 2 turns to lighter and thinner textures and Swelter 3 turns the grooves back on.  These three tracks emulate one of the points of growth in this disc; all three are scored for cello, piano, and drums.  Within that subset of Build, Matt McBane finds additional textural life and a true chamber music sense of discourse.  You don’t realize that the ensemble is pared down at all.

I hear a similar multi-track arc in the end of the album.  Cleave is, to be blunt, f*$&ing incredible.  The simplest materials (piano ostinato, tight and irregular glissandi in the strings, militaristic drums) grow and build and expand inexorably to Cleave’s high point.  The music is haunting, sorrowful, mesmerizing, and hits me in an intensely personal space.  When it starts, I can do nothing but listen. Following Cleave, Anchor is the most abstract and disjointed work.  The replacement of vibraphone for drum set and the fragmented ensemble (often in disjointed pairs and trios) keep the track lively but without a massively driving force. Fragments of distorted cello bubble under the surface, glassy and timeless intervals hang in the air, the bass gets expressive bowed lines, hocketing abounds in the middle; the whole piece seems to be the ensemble asking the “what haven’t we done on this album yet” question and creating elegant answers.  To end the disc, Maintain is Build at its most straight forward.  Resonant open intervals pulse forever forward, pushing the album towards a very satisfying harmonic and gestural goal.  The directness of the line may come across to some as slightly corny in a quasi-film score sort of way but I thoroughly enjoy the plain and direct motion.  After the ride we’ve had since Cleave I find the stable and hypnotic push towards the end the perfect closer.

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Glass Heart

Orange Mountain Music CD 7006

Maria Bachmann, violin

Jon Klibonoff, piano

When it comes to minimalism, I must admit I’ve always been more of a Steve Reich guy. But I was quite taken with Philip Glass’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano (2008), the work at the heart of a new disc on the composer’s Orange Mountain Music label. This world premiere recording by violinist Maria Bachmann and pianist Jon Klibonoff highlights a Romantic urgency I hadn’t heard in Glass’s music before. Indeed, Glass’s program note cites a childhood memory of listening to recordings of the Brahms, Fauré and Franck violin sonatas with his father, at the time a record-store owner in Baltimore.

The fundamental Romanticism of Glass’s piece is underscored by Bachmann and Klibonoff’s programming, which places his recent duo alongside nineteenth-century staples: the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, and Schubert’s magisterial Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 162 (in the liner notes, Bachmann notes a “similar pathos” shared by the Schubert and Glass sonatas). The disc is rounded out by Ravel’s intriguing Sonata Opus Posthume, a work written in 1897 but left unpublished at the composer’s request, only to be discovered and published in 1975.

I first encountered Bachmann and Klibonoff on their eloquent recording of Paul Moravec’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tempest Fantasy, a work composed for their ensemble, Trio Solisti, and clarinetist David Krakauer. The warmth and assurance of their playing is such that I would happily listen to them play most anything, canonical or contemporary, and their commitment to new American music is a boon to composers and audiences alike.

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