The Puppeteers: The Puppeteers
It’s a charming, slightly romantic notion that musical collaborators who began their friendship at a much-loved performance space would later unite to form a group after that venue has come and gone as a tribute of sorts, but that’s exactly what The Puppeteers have done. In memory of the Brooklyn club Puppet’s Jazz, which closed its doors in 2011, drummer Jamie Affoumado, pianist Arturo O’Farrill, bassist Alex Blake, and vibraphonist Bill Ware have all thrown their creative ideas into the same hat and recorded their self-titled first album. The release is also the premiere recording offered on their new label Puppet’s Records.
All of these musicians have individually made so much music with so many different and amazing groups that I’m not going to venture to list them (although in the “we are all connected” department, it is worth mentioning that Bill Ware was a 2003-4 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute participant), but suffice it to say that the strength of this album lies in the fact that everyone has contributed their own tunes; there is no bandleader. Because the musicians have played together so much, the music is varied without seeming disjointed, and the balance between instruments—especially the agility with which the instruments move between background and foreground to allow for the featuring of solos and prominent lines—is so fluid that the listener barely notices such shifts of texture until they have already taken place. From O’Farrill’s blazingly fast piano lines and Ware’s similarly propulsive vibraphone playing to Blake’s quiet, tuneful scatting over bass improvisations and Affoumado’s exacting-yet-still-relaxed drumming, it’s easy to hear that the four are having a blast playing together, and it’s most definitely a fun and energizing listening experience.
Michael Gordon: Rushes
Hitting the streets just today is a commercial recording of Michael Gordon’s composition Rushes for seven bassoons. Named after the tall grass that is reminiscent of the materials from which bassoon reeds are manufactured, Rushes is a triathlon—the piece is written in three parts; two 20+ minute sections sandwiching a short seven-minute movement—of constant musical motion; wave upon wave of repeated tones constantly wash over one another in a multilayered tapestry of darkly beautiful harmonies. It is at first warm and then, over time, becomes somehow electronic-sounding, but without losing the sense that humans are behind the music. (And don’t forget to check out the score and assorted insights into the production of the work.) Like his previous composition in the same vein, Timber, this piece is intended to evoke an ecstatic, trancelike state, and also to “expand the boundaries of a single instrument’s repertoire into hitherto unknown (and at times, otherworldly) spaces.” Mission accomplished.
Joseph Kubera: Book of Horizons
With more than thirty years’ worth of musical contributions to the American contemporary experimental music scene, pianist Joseph Kubera has pretty much played, well, nearly all of it. He is known for unrelenting precision, stamina, and patience—qualities all required to master some of the most challenging piano works of our age, such as those by Feldman, Ashley, and numerous pieces by John Cage, to name just a few. He also has wide-ranging tastes, which are demonstrated on his new album, Book of Horizons released by New World Records. Two of the works, “Blue” Gene Tyranny’s 1994 composition The Drifter and Michael Byron’s 2009 Book of Horizons, were written especially for Kubera, and he has grouped them with Julius Eastman’s Piano 2 and Stuart Saunders Smith’s Fences, In Thee Tragedies. The music spans the lush to the thorny, and the textures range from sparse to brick wall density; the recording below of the first movement of Michael Byron’s Book of Horizons conveys the sonic cognitive dissonance of unceasing tangled fingerings that nonetheless sound strangely effortless.