James J. Pellerite, Native American flute; Moravian Philharmonic conducted by Lawrence Golan
The traditional Native American flute is an extremely expressive instrument, but it is almost invariably played unaccompanied. So it’s great to hear Comanche composer David Yeagley’s single movement concerto, Wessi vah-peh, and the other concertante works featuring Native American flute with a symphony orchestra on this new Albany disc. Yeagley, like the other diligent composers featured here, takes special care to make sure this quiet instrument’s subtleties are not drowned out by the accompanying symphony orchestra.
Erin Lesser, flute
Need another 4 minutes and 33 seconds to round out your solo flute recital? I’ve got a little suggestion: Tristan Murail (who did you think?). On this new recording by the Argento Chamber Ensemble, the composer’s moody flute solo, Unanswered Questions, clocks in at a purely coincidental 4:33. But the similarity to John Cage’s silent masterpiece doesn’t end there. Murail’s stream of consciousness melody evokes an utter stillness which, near the end, could easily be interrupted by the sound of just one pin hitting the floor.
Dutz is a percussionist, specializing in mallet and hand-played percussion, so it’s especially interesting to hear his treatment of woodwinds and strings on this album. On “Spongy Bark,” the pizzicato he introduces in the cello carries over to staccato in the oboe and clarinet, and you can faintly hear clacking keys as the woodwinds run through the piece’s chromatic passages. Including Dutz’s marimba playing, every sound on this track has a light, plucky feel that helps keep the music aloft as it speeds along.
Greg Gisbert and Ron Miles, trumpet and flugelhorn; John Gunther, alto sax, soprano sax, flute, didgeridoo; Peter Sommer, tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Gary Smulyan, baritone sax and bass clarinet; Alex Heitlinger, trombone; Mike Abbott, guitar; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Mark Simon, bass; Paul Romaine, drums; Manavihare “Mimy” Fiaindratovo, percussion
Once the warble of the electric guitar melts seamlessly into the tinkling piano, you know this isn’t your typical jazz album. Add to this a cabaça grooving with some delicate ride cymbal work and you begin to sense where all of this is going. Sure enough, the horns fall exactly into place, but then everything changes when the piano breaks into a hoppin’ montuno. To composer Chie Imaizumi, it’s “A Change for the Better,” the opening track to her debut CD Unfailing Kindness. Played with such unabashed joy, it’s no wonder the musicians gathered to record the seven songs on the disc dubbed Imaizumi’s style “happy hardcore.” Works for me.
Hearing Charlemagne Palestine’s magical approach to the piano live is one of the great “have to be there” experiences. As wonderful as his all-too-rare appearances on recordings have been, none really captures the total experience: in which his maniacal minimalist solo piano pyrotechnics are often accompanied by a sea of teddy bears and a snifter of cognac. But Cold Blue’s new A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies, in which Palestine simultaneously pounds on two pianos, eking out otherworldly resonances, comes really close. There’s even a short prelude featuring the composer speaking and singing to the audience, as well as sharing some cognac.
Brovold gets a lot of mileage from a simple collection of instruments—guitar, bass, drums, violin, and a few saxophones—in crafting a hypnotic blend of droning jazz-rock. But for this title track, he adds tympani, which combined with the repeated rhythmic figures on electric guitar and violin to create the feel of a curtain-raising overture. Instead of veering into pomposity, Brovold alternates these dramatic figures with a sort of ritornello for two electric guitars squalling in snaky counterpoint.
Feeling a severe lack of music performed solely on electric bass in your life? Worry not! California’s intrepid new music label, New Albion, comes to the rescue with Jeffrey Roden’s Seeds of Happiness. The stripped-down aesthetic consists of simple melodies with straightforward accompaniment captured with a pristine approach to the recording process. Hey, it helps to have a sound artist in the family: nephew Steve Roden produced the album.
New Millennium Ensemble
Although the eight members of the Common Sense Composers’ Collective are spread all over the country, they mostly share a similar post-minimalist compositional aesthetic. And their shared sensibility has made the previous collective discs remarkably consistent for multiple-composer recordings. But on first listen, the omnivorous post-modernism of Ed Harsh (who also serves as vice president of Meet The Composer) frequently sounds completely unrelated to the music of anyone else in the collective. His contribution here, not a single night’s sky, begins with a furious ostinato that is broken within seconds and is transformed into music that is more pensive and introspective. Ostinatos frequently return but are just as frequently subverted, as if Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, as well as the other members of the Common Sense Composers’ Collective were arguing in a bar. The more I’ve listened to it, the more I realize it fits right in, but I’ve listened to it a ton of times. (I wrote the booklet notes!)
Whenever composer Dennis Kam hears the old saying “it takes two to tango,” he must be thinking to himself: Sure, but three would make things a little more interesting. Take his composition Trio. At any moment the piece feels capable of breaking into a soft-shoe routine. The Ibis Camerata delivers a buoyant performance that really emphasizes the music’s groove potential.
This piece brilliantly integrates a cello soloist into a big-band sound. It was written in tribute to a former member of the band who passed away, and a wide range of emotion—anger, agitation, surprise—can be heard in cellist Matt Haimovitz’s playing. The turbulent instrumentation invites full-throttle wailing from all sections of the band, and a duet near the end between cello and electric guitar turns from pleasant to snarling as the rest of the rhythm section reenters. It’s gripping, but never grim.