Whatever genre of music he is engaging in, Derek Bermel is always mindful of its context. That mindfulness, coupled with an insatiable musical curiosity, manifests itself whether he is composing music for an orchestra, playing clarinet with various chamber ensembles, singing in his own R&B band, or jamming with traditional musicians from around the world.
If there were a music version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” it could very well be “Six Degrees of Carman Moore” since Moore—in a career spanning decades—connects to everyone from Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen to John Lennon and Aretha Franklin. And yet, many people are unaware of Moore, even within the contemporary music community.
Originally a student of history before he refocused his efforts into music, Robert Carl’s interest in time, memory, and space are veins running through his compositions, his work more given to conjuring imagery than narrative plot. And whether inspiration is mined in the wake of a seascape or travelers on a speeding bullet train, the resulting music tends to carry a distinct organic beauty and rich, encompassing depth.
The music of composer Arlene Sierra is significantly focused on creative forms of process. Whether structures from the natural world such as beehives or flocks of birds, or human-made maps of war game strategy, sturdy foundations ground the musical content of her works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, chorus, and opera.
If there is any way to distill the wide-ranging artistry of Matana Roberts, it might be to focus on the ways in which she eludes definitions. The Chicago-raised composer, improviser, and alto saxophonist offers a friendly yet confidant smile as she explains, “Basically, I don’t like being told what to do, or who I am, or what I am by other people. I prefer to make those statements myself.”
In conversation, Evan Chambers conveys his ideas using words in a strikingly similar fashion to how he delivers them in music: honestly, intelligently, with neither fear of open emotion nor of making a sharper point than his laid-back demeanor might at first lead you to expect. As he speaks about his familial roots in folk music, his love of poetry, and the responsibility he feels as an artist to acknowledge broader social, political, and environmental challenges, a portrait of the composer emerges that reveals again how incompletely shorthand genre descriptors and professional biographies capture art and artist.