Author: Alexandra Gardner

Viet Cuong: Game for Anything

Composer Viet Cuong

Composer Viet Cuong says that he is very impatient, but you’d never know it upon meeting him. His outward persona is relaxed, warm, and friendly, and at the same time he is bristling with enthusiasm and refreshing ideas about music. When challenged on this self-characterization, he laughs and says, “Maybe I’m just so impatient in my music that I can’t be impatient anywhere else.”

Although Cuong’s compositional output began with works for wind ensemble, he has branched out into numerous other mediums including chamber and orchestral music. One of his most recent works, Re(new)al, is a concerto for percussion quartet originally commissioned by the Albany Symphony and General Electric (GE) Renewable Energy. The original version was written for Sandbox Percussion and Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire, and the piece has since taken on multiple forms with versions for percussion quartet and full orchestra, and for band. Re(new)al is an ideal example of the playful-yet-substantive character of Cuong’s music that incorporates refreshingly imaginative ideas that fit effortlessly into the music without being gimmicky. He is currently at work on a piece for Eighth Blackbird with The United States Navy Band, saying, “To bring these two groups together is going to be a beautiful thing.”

We chatted inside the lovely orangery (the small greenhouse where plants and small trees are kept over the winter) of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., where Cuong is serving as the Early Career Musician in Residence. He talked about growing up as a “band geek“ and the importance of band music in his life, his work bringing together different musical worlds, the nuts and bolts of incorporating extended techniques into his music, the realities of self-publishing, and more.

  • I grew up as one of the biggest band geeks your school would have.

    Viet Cuong
  • There’s nothing worse than a joke falling flat, especially in a piece of music!

    Viet Cuong
  • To get a Navy Band commission—the 14-year-old Viet would freak out. ... [Y]ou have Eighth Blackbird on the flip side, and 20-year-old Viet would freak out. ... [T]hen ... bringing them together and so now 29-year-old Viet is freaking out!

    Viet Cuong
  • You don’t have to be told how to listen to something. No one’s telling you that you have to experience it a certain way.

    Viet Cuong
  • After working on it for a week and you still don’t like it, then you can move on to something else.

    Viet Cuong
  • From when I first started writing music when I was like 11 or something, I had Finale notepad and I was writing straight into the computer, so it’s just been what I’ve always done.

    Viet Cuong
  • I don’t know if 14-year-old Viet really had any idea what he was getting himself into. ... I think he knew that composers were living beings because he was in band.

    Viet Cuong
  • I remember Googling things like how to staple in the middle of an 11 x 17 sheet.

    Viet Cuong

Bonnie Jones: The Sounds of Not Belonging

Bonnie Jones

If you are attending an event in Baltimore that includes improvised electronic music, experimental theater, or multimedia installation, the chances are good that you will cross paths with sound artist and poet Bonnie Jones. She is arguably one of the most active and engaged members of the Baltimore art community, and rightly so—she gets things done, and has been doing just that for the past 20 years. Whether she is curating shows at The Red Room, helping organize the annual High Zero Festival, performing a set of her own improvised, noise-based music at the H&H Building, or teaching young girls to build contact mics from scratch through her organization Techne, she is actively bringing art to life, and at the same time feeding her own creative practice. Jones considers creation, performance, curation, and community service all as crucial facets of her artistic persona.

Jones’s music, which fuses electronic noise and text, emerges in large part from the sounds of her childhood, growing up on a dairy farm in New Jersey. She explains, “I grew up in a rural, very quiet, sound space that was punctuated by atypical sounds, which is to say machinery. Like a lot of machinery. The sounds that I remember as a kid were the buzzing of the low flying crop-dusting helicopters that came through. Airplanes overhead. Lawnmowers—big ones, not suburban ones, but huge tractor-like mowers. All kinds of other mechanical sorts of sounds…and the sounds of animals mixed with that.”

Those sounds made an impression, but Jones’s first artistic interest was in creative writing. She studied English Literature and poetry in college, and upon moving to Baltimore after graduation, she became immersed in Baltimore’s experimental poetry community. Her interest in the performance aspect of poetry led naturally to improvised music-making, and soon she was experimenting with combinations of language and sound in live performance contexts.

“When you are writing, or when you have a piece of text, you can talk about the past. And you can take a person to the past in language. It’s not quite as easy to do that musically. It’s hard to use sound to move people through time. Even though it’s a time-based medium, you can move people through the present time, but it’s not the same as moving a person through historical or subjective time.”

“It’s hard to use sound to move people through time. Even though it’s a time-based medium, you can move people through the present time, but it’s not the same as moving a person through historical or subjective time.”

It was while she was living and studying in South Korea on a Fulbright grant that Jones discovered the sonic materials that fit her artistic voice; electronic music pedals that could bend and twist sounds into nearly any form possible. She says, “When I went to Korea, and I was first introduced to these electronic music pedals, the moment that the sound came out of those, I was immediately like: This is the sound. These are the instruments. This is the sound space that I’ve been interested in intuitively but hadn’t really found the instrument for… These are the sounds that nobody wants.”

As it turns out, the sounds are indeed wanted, as she has increasingly been receiving grants and commissions to create new work. Her recent installation, 1,500 Red-Crowned Cranes, funded in part by a Rubys Artist Project Grant from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, incorporates text, sound, and objects to create, “a layered, intricate, installation work about bodies in migration, the consequences of borders and boundaries, and the imaginative potential of in-between spaces.” This work marks the beginning of an artistic shift for Jones, from improvised performance to the more fixed, less ephemeral experiences that installation work can provide. She says that her focus will still be on sound but will emphasize different ways to experience the work in real-time, such as moving sound through space, or the effect that objects have on the transmission of sound.

While Jones’ work takes many forms, the thread through it all hinges on creating visceral experiences that can lead to an increased understanding of the materials and subjects at hand. In this interview, she discusses the benefits and challenges of combining sound and text in improvisatory settings, her personal development as an artist, and about elevating the art scene in one’s community through participation and service.

  • I spent a lot of time sleeping in a camper, falling asleep to old-time or Appalachian music.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • It’s hard to use sound to move people through time. Even though it’s a time-based medium, you can move people through the present time, but it’s not the same as moving a person through historical or subjective time.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • I’m gonna work with the sounds that nobody wants

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • I have like completely combined my organizing, curatorial, and community service aspects of my practice into one thing. I don’t make any divisions anymore—all the parts are my practice.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • Sound vibrates in every material; it’s an impenetrable phenomenon.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • Not having any money doesn’t mean your parents pay for some things, or your partner pays for some things—in those cases you don’t have a lot of money, but you have a lot of safety net. Not having any money means you just don’t have any money. What you make is what you have to work with.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • I don’t think I’m going to refashion myself as a visual artist at this point. It’s just not something that I can do. I’m a musician for sure.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones
  • Certain individuals and their personal subjective realities haven’t actually been seen in art, or in art history.

    Bonnie Jones
    Bonnie Jones

Lainie Fefferman: Strength In Numbers

Lainie Fefferman is very much the opposite of the solitary, Romantic-era figure that many picture when they think of a composer. Describing herself as a “funny, nerdy, energetic person,” Fefferman freely admits that she doesn’t work well at home alone and is far more productive working in a bustling coffee shop or on a train. In fact, she gathers so much energy from being around other artists that she founded Exapno, a community center for new music in Brooklyn. For a monthly membership fee, musicians are given 24-hour access to the space, where they can compose, rehearse, and perform in a community-oriented environment. While she claims that she started Exapno for purely selfish reasons—so that she could have a place to work in the company of other artists—it continues to generate collaborations and serves as a point of entry into the New York City new music scene for musicians representing a great diversity of backgrounds and influences.

The Pirate's Daughter (sample)

Score sample from The Pirate’s Daughter, written for ETHEL.
© 2012 Lainie Fefferman. Used by permission.

Fefferman’s other great love besides music is math; she teaches a “Math and Music” course at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn and revels in introducing her students to the music of composers such as Steve Reich by revealing the numeric patterns inherent in the pieces. While she doesn’t necessarily use math to create rigorous formal structures in her own work as Xenakis might, she says that “there’s an aesthetic to the math that I like, and I think it’s the same (on a very meta-level) as the aesthetic to the music that I like. I like things that are minimal, unexpectedly simple, and surprisingly powerful… In math and music I think it’s really striking how you can take these tiny little ideas, and they can explain huge reactions.”

This aesthetic can be heard clearly in Here I Am, Fefferman’s most recent large-scale work (not to mention her Princeton Ph.D. thesis). Written for the ensemble Newspeak with Va Vocals (Martha Cluver, Mellissa Hughes, and Caroline Shaw), it features nine settings of what Fefferman considers “the wonkier bits of the Old Testament.” She says she chose the texts that she has been thinking about over and over for years, and that writing pieces is for her a way to dig deeper into the material in an effort to figure it out for herself. She pulled freely from her own varied musical tastes to create Here I Am, and the combination of beautifully uncluttered music with simple yet effective staging and lighting creates a powerful musical—and theatrical—experience.

Befitting her personality, Fefferman’s own music is highly movement-focused, and all of her compositions, whether scored for bagpipe and electronics or string quartet, radiate a sense of joyfulness. “Whenever I start writing, I think I get frustrated with myself if it doesn’t have motion and energy. Even in still passages I like having a sense of tension and release that translates in the ear to a forward-thinking feeling. Someday I’m going to have to write a sad, slow, hopeless passage, but I’m not there yet!”

Sounds Heard: No Lands—Negative Space

No Lands
Negative Space
(New Amsterdam 057)
Performed by:
Michael Hammond
with cameos by Anthony LaMarca, Aaron Roche, and Jay Hammond
Order on Bandcamp

The work of electronic musician/sound artist Michael Hammond first engaged my ears while listening to Sarah Kirkland Snider’s large-scale work Penelope, to which Hammond contributed elegantly subtle electronic textures. Negative Space is the first full length album of Hammond’s own recording project No Lands; it features nine electronic works that combine song format and ambient soundscape—the work of, as Hammond states in the liner notes, “Three years and a hurricane.”
Much of this music was created in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, an event that greatly affected Hammond, a Red Hook, Brooklyn resident and member of the New Amsterdam Records team. The dreamy nature of the music, with restless patches of multi-textured noise, synth washes, and eerie pitch-shifted voices, is both graceful and slightly disturbing at times. While the music has a surface level techno/dance music feel, substantial composerly attention is devoted to form, color, and line, making Negative Space a gratifying listening experience.

Sounds Heard: J.C. Sanford Orchestra—Views From The Inside

JC Sanford Orchestra: Views From The Inside
(Whirlwind Recordings 4652)

JC Sanford: composer, arranger, trombone; Taylor Haskins: trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonizer; Matt Holman: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Willis: oboe, piccolo, flute, soprano sax; Ben Kono: English horn, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, alto sax; Chris Bacas: clarinet, soprano, tenor sax; Kenny Berger: contra-alto clarinet, bassoon, alto flute; Mark Patterson: trombone; Jeff Nelson: tuba, bass trombone; Chris Komer: French horn; Jacob Garchik: accordion; Tom Beckham: vibraphone; Meg Okura: violin, electronics; Will Martina: cello, electronics; Aidan O’Donnell: bass; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Asuka Kakitani: conductor (tracks 6 & 12).
The transformations occurring in the world of jazz-oriented large ensembles—the big band and the jazz orchestra—are nothing short of inspiring. Thanks to groups such as John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society (to name just a couple) there has been an extension of musical possibilities so great that there’s no telling what will reach one’s ears. Composer-trombonist-conductor JC Sanford’s recent release Views From The Inside on Whirlwind Recordings delivers loads of aural surprises wrapped up in layers of jazz orchestra.

The 15-piece orchestra sports a number of unconventional instrument choices, such as accordion, oboe, and tastefully employed electronics, which result in unusual and highly compelling textures. Sanford is a masterful orchestrator, skillfully weaving together a somewhat disparate selection of instruments into delightfully intriguing forms. Matt Holman’s expansive trumpet solo in An Attempt At Serenity and Jacob Garchick’s spastic accordion ostinatos that open Verrazano Bikeride are just two examples of the range of expression on this album. The compositions are intended to be tributes to various aspects of Sanford’s life in Brooklyn, and indeed it sounds as if he soaked up the sounds of the streets and figured out how to gracefully incorporate them into his music.

Sounds Heard: Jeffrey Mumford—through a stillness brightening

Jeffrey Mumford: through a stillness brighteningJeffrey Mumford
through a stillness brightening
(Albany/Troy 1473/74)
Performed by:
Julia Bruskin, cello; Winston Choi, piano;
Miranda Cuckson, violin; Scott Dixon, bass;
Christina Jennings, flute; Lura Johnson, piano;
Wendy Richman & Eliesha Nelson, viola;
Argento Chamber Ensemble (Michel Galante, conductor); Avalon Quartet;
National Gallery Chamber Players (Peter Wilson, conductor)

an expanding distance of multiple voices – I. Estatico e molto appassionato
Miranda Cuckson, violin
Streamed with permission

Jeffrey Mumford’s recent 2-CD album through a stillness brightening features a selection of imaginative, skillfully executed solo and chamber works to fire up the ears. The composer’s evocative titles, always written out in lower case à la e.e. cummings, set the stage for similarly poignant music, rife with dramatic gestures and unexpected twists such as languid, sustained timbres that transform on a pinpoint into scampering flurries of notes or edgy, restless sections of double-stops. Mumford studied primarily with Elliott Carter—the influence is audible—but Mumford’s music has a powerful style very much its own, to be heard in his use of rhythm and counterpoint, and in the way he conceives of musical space and time.

The list of musicians involved is a potential dream team for tackling the challenges inherent in this type of musical complexity. Miranda Cuckson’s performance of an expanding distance of multiple voices for solo violin is ravishing, as are the expertly wrought performances of wending by violist Wendy Richman, to find in the glimmering air…a buoyant continuity of layering blue by cellist Julia Bruskin, and two Elliott Carter tributes by pianist Winston Choi. Mumford’s sense of instruments in relationship to and in dialogue with one another is revealed in an evolving romance for flute and piano performed by Christina Jennings and Lura Johnson, as well as through the filtering dawn of spreading daylight for viola and bass by Eliesha Nelson and Scott Dixon, to be still more thoroughly elaborated upon in the Argento Chamber Ensemble’s performance of through a stillness brightening, echoing fields…spreading light by the National Gallery Chamber Players, and the Avalon Quartet’s in forests of evaporating dawns.

Many of the performances are live concert recordings, another testament to the excellent musicianship at hand. Sometimes I worry about double portrait CDs, in that music by the same composer doesn’t always hold interest for two solid hours, but that is not a concern with through a stillness brightening; this is an engaging and varied assortment of fine pieces, deserving of multiple listens and careful attention.

Sounds Heard: Dan Becker—Fade

Dan Becker—Fade
Dan Becker
Fade (Innova 855)
Performed by:
The Common Sense Ensemble
The New Millennium Ensemble

The title of Dan Becker’s album Fade is named after one of its tracks, yet it doesn’t begin to disclose the manic sense of drive present in much of the music. This selection of chamber works composed between 1993 and 2008 suggests that Becker has an “on/off” switch resulting in either intensely energetic music or in work of concentrated repose. There isn’t a lot in-between, but clearly such extremes suit the composer, who according to the liner notes, is consumed by the idea of processes—both musical and otherwise—unfolding around him at all times.

Farthest to the “on” side of the spectrum are his Five ReInventions, which redress the two-part inventions by J. S. Bach in post-minimalist garb and set them for Disklavier á la Conlon Nancarrow at can’t-be-performed-by-normal-humans speeds. Other works that will make you consider skipping your morning coffee are the adrenaline-infused Gridlock, given a focused, enthusiastic performance by the Common Sense Ensemble, the second movement of Keeping Time, performed by The New Millennium Ensemble, and the final work, A Dream of Waking, for NME members Sunghae Anna Lim on violin, and Margaret Kampmeier on piano.

The title track, Fade, falls to the other edge of Becker’s compositional style; it is gentle, delicate music that walks on eggshells, ideal for laying in a hammock on a warm summer day. Similarly, the first movement of Keeping Time is a slowly measured dance through sparkling layers of vibraphone, piano, bass clarinet and strings. The excellent production by Judith Sherman makes all of the evocative works on the album glow, and delivers a satisfying punch in just the right places.

Sounds Heard: John Adams—City Noir / Saxophone Concerto

John Adams: City Noir / Saxophone Concerto
John Adams: City Noir / Saxophone Concerto
(Nonesuch 541356-2)
St. Louis Symphony
David Robertson, conductor
Timothy McAllister, saxophone
Buy now:

John Adams’s most recent album, released by Nonesuch, contains the 2007 work City Noir (freshly revised in 2013) as well as the Saxophone Concerto, with Timothy McAllister as featured soloist. The album could essentially be seen as an exercise in nostalgia; City Noir, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is an homage to the city of Los Angeles and its movie-making style of the 1940s and ’50s, while the Saxophone Concerto gives a hat tip to Adams’s own jazz-steeped upbringing.

Both of these works sport all of the characteristic Adams-isms that we know and love—the frenetic, scurrying, tightly interwined lines, mountainous pile-ups of contrapuntal activity that are suddenly snatched away to reveal shimmering, gentler material, made even more dramatic for the contrast, and huge, yet still clear as a bell-sounding brass chords that bound across the musical terrain. The heavy-duty music geeks out there will find plenty of those “How did he DO that?! Must see score now.” moments.
Both compositions are rife with references to jazz, without “just coming out and saying it” directly in the music. Alto sax is featured in City Noir, with a “fiendishly difficult part” writes Adams in his liner notes, and according to legend, it was hearing McAllister perform the part that inspired the composer to write an entire concerto for McAllister. Well, that and McAllister’s past life as a champion stunt bicycle rider (!), which for Adams spoke to the musician’s fearlessness. Also in the liner notes, Adams states that for the Saxophone Concerto he wanted a sax sound associated with jazz performance, rather than the vibrato-laden French style that is often employed in classical saxophone music. Timothy McAllister’s powerful performance does have a more “American” sound, while the St. Louis Symphony’s performance (led by conductor David Robertson) achieves the intended infusion of bebop into its veins while maintaining a sense of clarity and conciseness throughout. One of my favorite parts is the very opening of the piece, which sounds as if McAllister is pulling an entire orchestra out of the ground with his instrument alone. But the jazz element isn’t just about the saxes—both works contain jazz-oriented harmonic and gestural material molded specifically for orchestra performance. These are vital, engaging performances by all involved.

Bora Yoon: The Weight of Magic

Although composers are always constructing new sonic worlds, Bora Yoon is super-charging that idea through her multimedia and site-specific works. She performs using her voice, her violin, an array of sound-making objects of assorted shapes and sizes, and live electronics, as well as with video projections to create immersive environments that, as she puts it, “transport people somewhere, and return them, hopefully changed from the experience.”

Her latest project, Sunken Cathedral, is not site-specific in the traditional sense, but rather involves the creation of a multi-dimensional artistic structure in a four-part, year-long rollout process from blueprint (audio CD) to finished structure in the form of a fully staged multimedia production that will premiere in January 2015 at the Prototype Festival. In between those two bookends are planned releases of a vinyl double album on the Innova label, created as a limited edition fine art piece, and a trilogy of interactive music videos designed for the iPad in collaboration with the Gralbum Collective. The idea is that each form of media will build upon the previous one, adding additional sensory input and engaging listeners and audience members in a different context, providing specific views of the project that can be experienced individually, or as a whole, in the same way that one might stroll around a space to take in different aspects of a performance. Sonically, Sunken Cathedral references a vast range of musical styles, from early music to industrial electronic to music concrète, speaking both to Yoon’s diverse musical identity and to the quickly shifting time we live in.

Yoon wanted to use the title Sunken Cathedral—already famously employed by Debussy, as well as by graphic artist M. C. Escher—because, like those other works, she says, “It offers the language to speak about the invisible—the architectural context, the idea of reflections in a binary world. That there are the actual things of reality, and there are the things that lie beneath the surface…and the idea of how we separate our worlds in that way, whether it’s day and night, or conscious and subconscious, or the physical world and the metaphysical world…and what happens when you explore the full circle of that.”

Yoon comes by her fascination with architectural sonic experience and cathedrals through direct personal exposure; since 2007 she has been a member of the choir at The Church of Ascension in New York City, and she cites her time spent singing in that space as a primary force of inspiration. “The more I sang at Ascension,” she explains, “the more I started to look up, and to realize that the church really is a metaphor for the body. That the arches are the rib cage, and the swells of the organ are lungs, and the idea that the invisible that we don’t see in the church, the Holy Spirit, is the idea of breath that’s inside us.” The sense of transport created with the combined horizontal and vertical nature of choral music, and the sense of ritual imbued in music intended for particular purposes and/or times of day and night, are concepts that have deeply affected her creative process.

The interdependence of conscious and subconscious is always on Yoon’s mind as she creates her musical worlds. She is entranced by sonic associations and triggers, often questioning why exactly a sound is interesting to her, what associations it might evoke, both for herself and for others, and the effects of layering sonic material from disparate contexts and of varying tempos. Her performances employ a large array of sound-making objects—in addition to violin and keyboard—such as bowls and assorted kitchen utensils, pieces of glass, small drums, glockenspiel, and cell phones. She feels strongly that as part of the performance experience the audience should be able to see where exactly the sound they are hearing is coming from and how it is being made, in order to take in the full sensory impression of the moment at hand. During performances, Yoon moves around the space, triggering sounds that are then sustained by looping electronics; starting a record player, kneeling to strike a metal bowl, reaching for an old flip phone that she amplifies through her vocal mic, all while singing melodies that build upon one another into a layered chorus atop cyclical musical twinkles, scratches, and violin tones.

“It does mean that I carry around the kitchen sink,” she admits, laughing at the image. “But I do feel that for as much as that is a huge pain in the ass, that’s also the same measure of how it will be magical, and why it will be otherworldly, and something people will remember. So I always tell myself when I am dragging around 400 pounds of gear, ‘This is the weight of magic!'”
Indeed, through her insightful working process and captivating performances, Bora Yoon is building a world of her own, one that speaks clearly to her identity, but that also invites others in to discover what they will. She creates an overarching sense of both the personal and the universal through the transformation of a space, and through the sensation of time spent within it.

Sounds Heard: Andy Biskin Ibid—Act Necessary

Andy Biskin Ibid
Andy Biskin Ibid: Act Necessary
(strudelmedia 014)
Performed by:
Andy Biskin, clarinet
Kirk Knuffke, cornet
Brian Drye, trombone
Jeff Davis, drums
Buy: Order from strudelmedia or

The first thing that might catch one’s eye about the details of composer and clarinetist Andy Biskin’s quartet Ibid’s album Act Necessary is that there is no bass player involved. Rather, the ensemble contains clarinet, cornet, trombone, and drums. It’s a quirky group, playing some appropriately zany tunes, to the point where, if you close your eyes for certain tracks, it’s easy to picture a tiny cartoon marching band dancing its way across your field of vision. Such a lighthearted style—definitely Biskin’s forte, as evidenced by his extremely successful Goldberg’s Variations—which includes a deft fusion of New Orleans jazz, Tin Pan Alley, funk, and yes, polka, gives the music healthy doses of spirit and groove.

Apparently before Ibid came into existence, Biskin had also been experimenting with drummerless bands, which would naturally lend a more chamber-music feel to his music, but for this group he decided to turn things around by dropping the bass and adding drums. Because the arrangements are top-notch, my ears never found the missing bass to be an issue. There’s plenty to hear without it, and indeed, the treble-heavy lineup contributes to the sense of lightness in the music. The three melodic instruments work together to capture a satisfying sense of range, often going off in different directions to spin and whirl around one another, and then suddenly meeting at a common chord and progressing forward in rhythmic unison, like four friends on a scavenger hunt. Everyone has ample soloing opportunities, and they take them with creativity and gusto. Kirk Knuffke stands out in “Page 17,” a wonderfully energetic tune full of quick changes and surprises. As one might expect, trombone spends a lot of time filling up the lower range of the sound spectrum (check out the beginning of “Page 17′ for a good example), but Brian Drye shows his soloing chops in “Pretext” and “The Titans” while cornet and clarinet take on support roles. Also notable is that Jeff Davis’s drumming—mostly with brushes—always fits into the texture just so and is never overpowering. That you’ll likely be dancing within ten seconds of his entrance in “The Titans” or at the outset of “Just Like Me” goes to show that a great groove doesn’t have to be loud.

While all of the musicians on Act Necessary are clearly virtuosic performers, this is not so much a show-off-the-chops album, but more of a let’s-all-have-fun album, and that sentiment absolutely extends to the listener as well. The songs are complex and substantial, but never self-indulgent, with plenty of small details to be discovered upon repeated listening. While you’re dancing around the living room, of course.