Two pianists who recently caught my attention with new releases devoted exclusively to American music composed within the last quarter century are Nicholas Phillips and Mary Kathleen Ernst. All in all, 17 composers are represented on these discs, showing that the instrument that once was a mainstay in households all across the land still has a home in the 21st century.
The music of Chicago-based Janice Misurell-Mitchell seamlessly weaves elements from high modernism with jazz, Latin, blues, and even funk into an amalgam that is completely its own thing. Vanishing Points, the second retrospective disc of her music, collects six of her chamber music compositions spanning four decades.
Viewing last year’s self-titled DVD from Indianapolis “computer-acoustic trio” Big Robot is an exercise in forbearance. The DVD includes six audiovisual pieces, the last of which is divided into three movements; all of this material works by suggesting and then withholding, cannily but almost ceaselessly, the formal and rhetorical identifications, explicit visual and auditory referents, and narrative connections that, by the end of the DVD, we’re made to crave.
It is always a pleasure to encounter music that serves as a reminder of some basic creative ideas: that music is a physical thing, connected to the body and to breath; that simplicity is often the most satisfying option; that the present moment and all that it holds is important. All of these notions are present in composer Keeril Makan’s latest release on Mode Records, Afterglow.