For more than three decades, Cold Blue Music has been highlighting the work of composers working on the outer edges of contemporary music, many of whom are based on the West Coast and “whose personal music visions often blend intuition with process,” according to the label. Sonically, this translates into a very specific kind of aesthetic which can be gleaned from the titles of the works on Cold Blue’s most recent anthology CD Cold Blue Two; Colorless Sky Became Fog and Prelude to Alone, for instance, are telling. Not to say that the music is colorless—it is anything but. This is (to my ears) music that evokes the thick, dark quiet of late nights, and misty rainy days, when a certain level of sleepy, languid melancholy can become soothing and thought-provoking.
Cold Blue Two features 14 short tracks (only Nights in the Garden of Maine by Peter Garland breaks the five-minute mark), many of which were composed specifically for this CD. It offers a panoramic view of Cold Blue’s offerings, which are quite varied and yet make a powerful unified statement. These works could be described as beautiful oddities—some even devastatingly gorgeous, but always with a twist. Even if unapologetic beauty is not your cup of tea, worry not—upon close listen each one of these works sports frayed edges, chipped corners, or other subtle disturbances that turn it into a highly personal proclamation; this is far more than lovely fluff. Daniel Lentz’s smooth, mournful solo cello-with-overdubs piece Celli, Phillip Schroeder’s shimmering Another Shore for celesta with digital delay, and John Luther Adams’s Sky With Four Suns (originally a choral piece but presented here in an arrangement for string quartet) are examples of flat-out pretty music bearing plenty of harmonic and thoughtfully structured substance. But stand by, because things get weirder, and quickly. Son of Soe-Pa for solo guitar with electronics by Ingram Marshall is performed by his son, and also includes a recording of his son singing as an eight-year-old child. This description sounds warm and fuzzy until you actually hear the digital delay pitch-bends dragging down the guitar in a mildly sea-sickly, disturbing fashion. Here, childhood memories are taken to a surreal place.
The disc also contains a healthy dose of just intonation; the 16th note tremolo that opens James Tenney’s Mallets in the Sky, scored for the Harry Partch diamond marimba with string quartet, ushers in an upswing of mood and activity level after a series of somewhat lethargically paced tracks. It is followed by the disarmingly lovely, glowing Eskimo Lullaby, written by Larry Polansky for Lou Harrison’s just-intonation National guitar and the diaphanous, untrained voice of guitarist John Schneider.
All of the pieces have an intimate, small-space chamber music sound, whether it is accordion, clarinets, and piano, and/or electronics. Many are haunting, but not at all cold or alienating; this is music for friendly ghosts. Each work contains treasures to be discovered within, and the heart-on-sleeve honesty of the works is not something one hears often. Cold Blue Two can make you look forward to a rainy day.