When the recording of Michael Gordon’s Timber dropped last fall, critics justifiably drooled a little on the impressively weighty, laser-etched, inch-thick wooden box that held the CD. It was actually the recent experience of hearing Mantra Percussion play the piece live here in Baltimore, however, that drew me more deeply inside the transfixing power of a score designed for six percussionists and lumber.
The path through Alexander Berne & the Abandoned Orchestra’s Flickers of Mime—paired here in a 2-CD set with his equally fascinating Death of Memes—weaves in its course. Beginning with an ambient base layer of sound out of which distinct sonic events emerge and retreat, Berne creates the sensation that we are watching the landscape of a foreign country through the window of a moving vehicle, the sights only half glimpsed and even less concretely understood.
When composer and educator Bill Ryan interviewed to teach composition at Grand Valley State University in 2005, he laid out what his ideal collegiate program would look like. What no one—perhaps even including Ryan—likely anticipated, however, was how swiftly and successfully he would be able to make his vision a reality and how, in the process of so doing, he would put the university’s program on the national contemporary music map.
Like walking along the stone floors of cathedrals built ages ago or gazing at the portraits of kings whose reins have long since ended, Gregory Spears’s Requiem offers its audience a similarly blurred aesthetic experience, dissolving the present moment into an imagined history suggested by the trappings of style and language.
Much is made in the music press of violinist Hilary Hahn’s stunning technique, impeccable poise, and unshakable intonation. In that picture of perfection, however, one of her most striking character traits—her seemingly insatiable curiosity—can get a bit lost. Still, though she doesn’t flaunt her boundary pushing with unusual concert dress or radical interpretive choices, she resolutely pursues her own interests with care and focus.
If you can’t convince the members of So Percussion to stop by your house and play a show in your living room, their latest release, It Is Time, just might offer the next best thing. The disc contains only a single work—Steve Mackey’s five-movement, 38-minute It Is Time—which was composed expressly for the quartet. It comes bundled, however, with a 5.1 surround sound DVD of a complete performance that allows the viewer to get up close and personal with each of So’s members.
Though his formal education includes study at the New England Conservatory, Fred Hersch readily points out how the on-the-bandstand schooling he received in jazz clubs like Bradley’s in New York prepared him to be the musician is today. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about this journey and all that has come in its wake, but returned again and again to the idea of taking chances, trying things out, seeing what happens if—Hersch seemingly unbowed by the anxieties such open-ended performance situations bring into play. Later, he came at it head-on: “I think there has to be a certain element of danger in jazz, or it isn’t really jazz.”
Classically trained violinists are, generally speaking, a focused breed accustomed to long hours in the practice room refining a phrase down to static perfection. This is perhaps what makes the Oberlin and Juilliard-trained violinist Jennifer Choi’s seemingly voracious appetite to try new things so striking. From Brahms to improv to serving as the concertmaster for the pit orchestra of South Pacific, Choi seems unable, or at least unwilling, to sit still.
The second piece of Nate Wooley’s planned seven-part Seven Storey Mountain cycle dropped on Important records last week. It is a haunting, often aggressive sound world that moves from a place of chilled droning into a pummeling chaos, before returning to a stressed restraint reminiscent of the work’s opening moments. After listening to the work, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with him about the music that was ultimately created. Luckily for me, he was game for a little Q&A.
A collection of five short tracks adding up to just 20 minutes of music, this EP feels like more of an amuse-bouche than an image of the ensemble’s full reach, but the character of the music is enchanting enough to make it an attractive listen. Each piece rings out as if the lid has been lifted up on a new music box, the lines mixing vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel with percussive sounds made using less traditional wood, metal, and glass objects. With these raw materials, the ensemble employs a musical vocabulary just quirky and mysterious enough that it would comfortably fit into the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.