Douglas Detrick’s Anywhen Ensemble
The Bright and Rushing World (Navona 5955)
Douglas Detrick—trumpet, composition
Hashem Assadullahi—alto & soprano sax
Recorded September 15-17, 2012 at Firehouse 12 Studios (New Haven CT)
Longtime readers of this site should recognize the name of Portland-based composer/trumpeter Douglas Detrick from an overview on the creative music scene in his hometown he contributed a few years back and a subsequent report on the Chicago-based EveryPeople Workshop.
I first became acquainted with the music he composes and performs with his eclectic trumpet/sax/cello/bassoon/drums quintet, the Anywhen Ensemble, through the group’s second album called Rivers Music, which was released the same year that Detrick wrote those NewMusicBox articles. That disc consists of just one massive sprawling track lasting over 40 minutes which begins with Feldman-esque pointillistic drone exchanges between the four melodic instruments before the drums introduce a rhythmic element and then gradually take it to something more frenetic and impassioned. Both in terms of his composition and his ensemble’s performance, it was a true hybrid of the aesthetics and sensibilities of (to use genre terms many of today’s most forward-thinking music makers would rather eschew) jazz and contemporary classical music. It’s somehow straight down the middle. Cello and bassoon immediately send a subliminal message of “that’s classical” while saxophone and drums shout “this is jazz,” even though there have been valuable improvisational contributions made on the bassoon and the cello and a now significant body of score-based repertoire for the saxophone (though not so much for drumset). It’s telling that the trumpet, which has had an important audible impact in both worlds, is Detrick’s instrument.
His third Anywhen Ensemble album, The Bright and Rushing World, has just been released on Navona and offers the same broad range of musical possibilities though it is parsed into ten separate chunks. Well, not exactly. Detrick conceives of it as one piece over which he labored for the better part of a year, the various sections are just convenient markers. As if to further make listeners aware that it is an integrated whole, the titles for each of the ten sections are actually the lines of an original ten-line poem:
The door is open
And you watch as he goes out
A seeker, insubmissive
Into the bright and rushing world
Who, over the years in your care
You never thought to give a name
You gasp and ask aloud
How can you live without a name?
A question so weightless it floats away
On the wind of his leaving
But since Detrick offers these ten divisions on the CD, it seems as good a way as any to navigate through the listening experience. “The door is open” begins with just the trumpet alone. Over the course of the first minute, spare embellishments from drummer Ryan Biesack build gradually into something more clearly foregrounded and then the remaining horns enter in a quasi-chorale, though still ceding center stage to the trumpet. “And you watch as he goes out” begins with a long low note played by bassoonist Steve Vacchi which is immediately answered by the other horns before a drum solo kicks in amid Shirley Hunt’s pizzicato cello, mimicking the role of a jazz bassist. By a minute in, though, the cello, now arco, has become the primary voice, offering sweeping melodic lines that are periodically interrupted by outbursts from the various horns, sometimes in tandem, sometimes not. Here’s what some of his music looks like on paper:
At the onset of “A seeker, insubmissive” the bassoon repeats a five-note ostinato over which the other instruments add layers of counterpoint. But for “Into the bright and rushing world,” the drums initially set the tone, receding into the background or dropping out entirely when other instruments grab the spotlight with brash and harried musical gestures. The bassoon briefly takes the lead, but is quickly shouted down. About half way through, trumpet and saxophone take the center stage, moving in parallel motion as they might in a head on a hard-bop recording from the 1950s, though not for long. Eventually all dissolves to just the cello wandering pizzicato across the open strings, its cycle of fifths ringing out.
“Who, over the years in your care” continues with just pizzicato cello, though now playing more linear material over which the saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi folds a melody soon joined by trumpet and bassoon with the drums keeping everything under control. “You never thought to give a name” opens eerily with just a series of quiet, breathy cello harmonics that then lead into a more rhapsodic tune, though still unaccompanied for roughly the first minute. Others enter briefly and then the bassoon takes the lead in more angular melodic shapes.
“You gasp and ask aloud” starts with what is probably the most sublime drum solo on the album. Again, as with the earlier spotlights on individual members of the ensemble on this album, it’s about a minute long. The horns, in tandem, introduce another chorale-like tune, but the drums never stop being the main focus. A spare open fifth leads directly into the more introspective “How can you live without a name?” in which the bassoon is really given an opportunity to shine with some fancy cadenza-like figurations.
“A question so weightless it floats away” begins as a call and response between the cello and the trumpet with the drums serving as an intermediary. The other instruments then join in the ensemble interplay. Breathy harmonics return on the cello as well as other extended techniques which usher in a plethora of otherworldly squawks from the other players. Finally, more harmonically directional contrapuntal activity returns with each instrument blending together like threads in a complex tapestry, eventually dropping out except for the cello, which offers one final dirge-like flourish. At nearly 12 minutes, it is the longest piece of this massive sonic puzzle. Saxophone and bassoon trade motives at the onset of “On the wind of his leaving” over which the trumpet eventually weaves a tune that is somehow a cross between a fanfare and a lullaby.
For folks still wanting more—I know I do—Detrick’s generous website offers tons of ear candy. Walking Across, the very first Anywhen Ensemble album, is offered in its entirely. There are also recordings by his earlier group, The Turning Point, which he describes as playing “eclectic pop material,” but to my ears it just sounds more firmly rooted in jazz than his more recent sonic explorations. Tantalizingly, one page embeds a Soundcloud stream of a series of excerpts from a session in which Anywhen collaborated with pianist Wayne Horvitz in a fascinating reimagining of traditional American folk material; it’s a sneak preview of a full album that will be released in the coming months. Next year Anywhen is embarking on a nation-wide tour. I plan to attend at least one of their gigs!