If anything is clear in the first few moments of Mariel Roberts’s debut CD Nonextraneous Sounds, it’s that this will not be just a polite collection of unremarkable wallpaper works for solo cello. Actually, unless you are already prepared for what’s coming, it’s not even completely clear that a cello is what’s at the forefront of the mix.
I’ve long been a fan of Gabriel Kahane’s songwriting. With February House, he has taken the strengths of his previous projects—smart lyrics, even smarter compositional choices—and played them out across a larger storyboard, creating distinct voices for his characters that still solidly carry the attractive marks of his own.
For the recording Time Loops cellist Maya Beiser teams up with composer/pianist Michael Harrison to perform a number of Harrison’s works inspired by “music from ancient Greece and the Renaissance, Indian ragas and Minimalism.” All of his music is performed in just intonation, and the result is an ear-openingly clear, bright sound that fits the instrument beautifully and highlights the ecstatic, spiritual nature of the compositions.
There are plenty of unique albums out there, of course, but San Francisco-based Common Eider, King Eider’s Sense of Place is a particular standout in this regard. The unusual packaging of the project lends an air of mystery to the proceedings, like receiving keys and a map to an adventure of unknown parameters ahead.
In Guy Klucevsek’s Polka from the Fringe, which is similar in spirit to the roughly contemporaneous Waltz and Tango Projects, composers directly engage in the squeezebox’s more quotidian roots. The next time someone comes up to you claiming to be able to define new music, tell him or her to listen to these recordings.
With Scorpion Tales, Duo Scorpio doesn’t require you set aside all of your wedding prelude and garden party images of the harp before you hit play, but they are going to stretch those sonic ideas out of whack once things get going. This may be the sum distillation of the work included on this album—it doesn’t build barriers out of repertoire, but it does open quite a few windows in the library.