Posts Tagged “Clarinet”

QuestionsCD cover

music of Tom Johnson

performed by Carol Robinson, Tom Johnson, and Dante Boon

Maria De Alvear World Edition

Tom Johnson’s music is very much like magic. I don’t mean necessarily that his music is magical more that his music works in the tradition of close-up or “micromagic.” As is often the case in close-up magic, the magician is telling you in no uncertain terms what he/she is doing without ever really revealing HOW any of it happened. The end result is a compelling “I can’t believe that just happened” experience and this is the area that Tom Johnson’s music occupies. Pieces like Failing: A Very Difficult Piece for String Bass or Narayana’s Cows include a narrator which explains, in no uncertain terms, how this piece works. An Hour for Piano or The Chord Catalogue relegates this information to program notes and such (the notes for An Hour for Piano should be read while listening to the piece; an internal narrator, if you will). The magic in Johnson’s music comes when he does exactly what he told you he was going to do but not HOW they are compelling and captivating.

Music and Questions is a prime example of how straightforward Johnson’s music can be. Five bells, all arranged in half-steps, are played in every possible permutation of single strikes. Between each permutation, Carol Robinson asks a simple question. The questions always relate to the listener’s experience of the piece and how the listener relates to the questions or the music. She also announces each section by stating which of the five bells are being struck first. That is it. For 23 minutes. No rhythmic motive to trace, no groove elements, no fancy orchestrational tricks, no surprise emotional outbursts, just a clinical exploration of 120 bell tones. It might be cliche to refer to this as a Zen listening experience but I honestly have no other words for it. There is absolutely nothing boring about this music but my brain tells me the music should be boring. That is the magic.

Music with Mistakes puts Robinson in the role of narrator and basset horn soloist. Listener engagement is key with Johnson and Music with Mistakes brings foreground listening to an audience that might otherwise expect to “zone out” during a typical process-oriented “old school” minimalist piece. Instead of the constant interruptions for questions, though, Music with Mistakes starts with the statement that melodic material will be played multiple times but only once without mistakes. The listener is to try to hear the mistakes. Arts organizations are constantly looking for ways to “engage the audience” with their repetitive concerts of warhorse literature. Johnson builds audience engagement into each piece. That is the magic. What is even better is that Johnson includes the answers at the back of the liner notes.

Same or Different operates under a similar basic principle as Music with Mistakes. Thick piano chords are played but the underlying question is: are they the same or are the different? A motive is played and the repeated: are they the same or are the different? This game lasts for about 27 minutes and it is some of the most active listening I’ve done in a while. I would love to give a copy of this disc to Edwin Gordon just to see how he does.

Since the music is, at its core, so simple and direct it is hard to say anything about the performances. Is there a word for this kind of virtuosity that puts the performers in a quasi-game where their detachment is a the primary fundamental skill? In the last two pieces, Carol Robinson and Dante Boon have to play their pieces without giving anything away. They have to make micro-changes and repetitions into a cheeky game of “did I or didn’t I” for considerable lengths of time. Not only is Johnson inviting the audience to hyper-scrutinize each micromotion of the performers he also gives them an extremely thin veil to hide behind. The whole disc is a delight to listen to. That is magic.

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CD cover artElemental

electroacoustic music by

Robert Scott Thompson

Aucourant Records

  • Out of the Vivid Air
  • Waters of Cabeus (A)
  • Shinrin-yoku
  • Embers

These four compositions by Robert Scott Thompson, all for fixed digital audio playback, blend notions of the natural and unnatural worlds. All the sounds used are crisp and clean, elegantly placed in time, and each work progresses at a slow and unencumbered pace. Most of the sonic materials are drawn from natural sources: water, wind, or simple percussion sounds and the synthetic elements grow into and out of these natural sounds so deftly that it can be hard to tell how much you are hearing is, in fact, artificial. Shinrin-yoku, with its obvious instrumental timbres, never quite sounds like it is either instrument or environment. Lots of attention is given to spatialization and these works would do extremely well in a surround format. So much of this music is based on where things happen that I feel the stereo field is a bit of a let down. Be that as it may, these organic and ambient tracks are splendidly created and infinitely listenable.

CD cover art Delicate Balance

F. Gerard Errante, clarinet

Aucourant Records




  • Water Crossing ~ Alex Shapiro
  • Echoes of the Invisible ~ Peter Terry
  • Passage ~ Robert Scott Thompson
  • Circles in the Sky ~ Jane Brockman
  • Breath ~ Joseph Harchanko
  • Equanimity ~ Robert Mackay
  • Midway Inlet ~ McGregor Boyle
  • Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing ~ Judith Shatin
  • A Little Night Music ~ Douglas Quin
  • rain of the heart, reign of the soul ~ D. Gause

The purpose of this disc was to collect works for clarinet and electronics that were “calm, peaceful and tranquil, perhaps being suitable for relaxation and contemplation.” Every composition succeeds in this goal. The music is indeed calm and tranquil with soft droning synths and slow moving harmonies. Rhythmic activity is kept light, as with the groove in Shapiro’s Water Crossing, and for the most part each piece consists of mellow string pads underneath a long drifting clarinet line. Robert Scott Thompson’s Passage stands out for tying in the high and bright clarinet sound into the electronic fabric of the accompaniment. Breath by Joseph Harchanko pulls its inspiration from Vipassana meditation to great affect, making a work that is sonically unlike the others and a welcome break from the clarinet/synthesizer dichotomy in other pieces. The quietude and spaciousness of Judith Shatin’s Cherry Blossom and a Wrapped Thing are wonderful things. Cherry Blossom has rich and sumptuous electronics that envelope the clarinet in a blissful and dreamy sonic fabric. Through all of these pieces, F. Gerard Errante maintains excellent control in blending the clarinet timbre with whatever electronics are present. It can be difficult to make calm music compelling but each piece, and Errante’s playing, keep me listening.

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VictoireCD cover

Cathedral City

music of Missy Mazzoli

New Amsterdam Records

 

Victoire is Missy Mazzoli: compositions, keyboards, piano, melodica, toys; Olivia De Prato: violin; Lorna Krier: keyboards; Eileen Mack: clarinet; Eleonore Oppenheim: double bass, electric bass

  1. A Door into the Dark
  2. i am coming for my things
  3. Cathedral City
  4. Like a Miracle
  5. The Diver
  6. A Song for Mick Kelly
  7. A Song for Arthur Russell
  8. India Whiskey

Victoire is an ensemble that is hard to categorize. On the one hand, this is an instrumental chamber group that (on this album) is championing the music of one of its members. Mazzoli’s compositional voice is clear and focused, she definitely has something to say. The textures of the music, the timbres in the ensemble, the use of synthesizers and electronics, though, make Victoire appear less like a conventional chamber ensemble and more like a “band.” Unlike Build, a similar genre-bending group on the same label, Victoire’s connection to either the “chamber music” or “popular music” worlds is much more fluid. You can love or hate this group based on whichever camp you find yourself.

But enough about what Victoire is not. Mazzoli’s compositions are smooth and flowing with a aura of emotional detachment. Harmonies are comforting, long lyrical lines are abundant, and Mazzoli finds exciting ways to provide rhythmic propulsion without a dedicated percussionist. The music simmers. Distorted guitar in A Song for Mick Kelly could have plunged that track into some real spleen-venting thrash but Mazzoli shows excellent restraint and control. This isn’t minimalism, this isn’t pop, this is simply Mazzoli. Her compositional voice is distinct and highly listenable. Events unfold slowly, unhurried, but never lagging or taking too long.

Each player in Victoire blends extremely well with the various synth and electronic sounds that form the sound world of each track. I am especially drawn to the juxtaposition of bubbling synths and the lyrical line of the double bass in Like a Miracle. The various breathy and hollow synth sounds are well chosen for their blend.

Many vocal elements permeate the compositions but again, there is a distancing of those emotionally charged elements from the listener. i am coming for my things replicates an answering machine message rich with emotional potential. India Whiskey uses the same technique of distancing a vocal element by manipulating a “number station” recording of a male voice counting over radio static. This static becomes the rhythmic motivator of the track as well as a timbral touchstone for the synths and instruments. I fear that a lot of the discussion about Victoire is going to revolve around the “what are they/what aren’t they.” I would much rather put that conversation aside and focus on their product: Intriguing music of our time, expertly crafted, performed, and produced.

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Messy

Mark Snyder

Royal Livermush Music

www.marksnyder.org

I have had the fortune of knowing Mark Snyder and his music for the last few years, so please consider this statement a warning of my own bias.

Snyder’s music does not follow the aesthetic of “instrument as effects machine” when combining a live performer with live-processing.  Instead, the role of the computer is much more ambient and serves to enhance and extend the sound of the performer.  His music is expansive, expressive, and extremely human.  The technology involved is not the most advanced and sophisticated outside of the fact that this music is, from a technical and technological aspect, approachable and satisfying.  Snyder’s work attracts performers who resist to works with electronics as well as audiences who don’t think they want to hear computer processing.

Snyder’s style is consistent throughout: slowly unfolding instrumental melodies are enhanced and allowed to spin in an electronically created space.  Where some composers might favor the sound of the computer over that of the live performer, Snyder always keeps the main emotional and musical content very firmly rooted in the person on the stage.  Snyder uses spectral enhancements to keep the sound alive as well as build ambient layers of material to sculpt the form of the piece.  Spoken words, children at play, and other very human sounds permeate the prerecorded material.  The end result might not be the pristine technical perfection sought by some, but the music is rich with intimate emotional resonance.

The one-man multimedia show that Mark Snyder has been touring in recent years combines his work as a composer, multi-instrument performer (tuba, clarinet, and accordion), and video artist.  This collection of pieces is, in many ways, a wonderful and logical extension of his tour but, at the same time, owners of the CD will be missing the video component so vital to the majority of the tracks presented here.  Fortunately for us all, he sells a DVD to rectify this problem.

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cd cover art

cd cover art

Hovhaness: solos, duos, and trios

music of Alan Hovhaness

OgreOgress

Paul Hersey, piano; Christina Fong, violin|viola; Libor Soukal, bassoon; Jirí­ Å estí¡k, oboe; Karen Krummel, cello; Michael Kornacki & John Varineau, clarinets; Christopher Martin, viola

  • Trio I for piano, violin & cello Op. 3 (1935)
  • Sonata Ricercare for piano Op. 12 (1935)
  • Artinis ‘Urardüan Sun God’ for piano Op. 39 (1945)
  • Suite for oboe & bassoon Op. 23 (1949)
  • Poseidon Sonata for piano Op. 191 (1957)
  • Bardo Sonata for piano Op. 192 (1959)
  • Sonatina for piano Op. 120 (1962)
  • Trio for strings Op. 201 (1962)
  • Three Haikus for piano Op. 113 (1965)
  • Night of a White Cat for clarinet & piano Op. 263 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 bassoons Op. 266 (1973)
  • Sonata for 2 clarinets Op. 297 (1977)
  • Sonata for oboe & bassoon Op. 302 (1977)
  • Sonata for viola Op. 423 (1992)
  • The vastly prolific composer Alan Hovhaness gets captured in a time capsule of chamber music in this OgreOgress release.  This 126 minute DVD-A disc (96kHz|24bit for you audiophiles out there) contains a full fourteen chamber pieces, thirteen of which are getting premiere recordings.  The chronological ordering of works provides a journey from Hovhaness’ early populist tonal/modal style through his initial experiments with his better known Eastern influenced mystical language.  There are pieces from each decade of Hovhaness’ productivity so if you are wanting a sampler of Hovhaness’ chamber output, there really isn’t a better place to start than this recording.

    While probably better known for his symphonies, Hovhannes is equally skilled at writing his musical ideas in chamber form.  The disc is crammed full of top notch performances and the audio quality of the disc is stunning.  The solo piano works are rich with harmonics.  The string trio sounds as if they are right in front of you.  I was especially struck by the overtones in Libor Soukal’s bassoon sound in the Op. 23 Suite for oboe and bassoon.

    There is no one large, dominating work on this disc which again makes it enjoyable for hearing the evolution of Hovhannes’ style and also encouraging performers to take up more of his chamber music.  As I first listened to the disc, I was surprised at the style of the earlier pieces but the through line of Hovhaness’ development seemed as natural as breathing air.  Then, when I started over with the early piano trio, I was amazed at how much of the later music is hidden in the earlier.  Flirtations with modality in the early pieces evolve into raga-esque melodies a few decades down the road.

    Each performance on this disc is well crafted from the performer to the ensemble through to the recording.  The musical language overall is accessible and just plain pretty.  I was especially fond of the piano trio, the piano sonatina, the string trio, Night of a White Cat, and the solo viola sonata.  That is quite possibly more music than I would get on a standard CD.  The fact that I get all the other works, which I also enjoyed, is a major bonus.  OgreOgress is doing it right with good music, great performers and performances, and excellent recordings.

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    thelema trioThelema Trio

    Ward De Vleeschhower, piano; Peter Verdonck, saxophones, and Marco Antonio Mazzini, clarinets

    Music by Junchaya, Lee, Carpenter, Honor, Mazzini, Walczyk, and Benadon

    innova records

    • 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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