Thursday, May 5, 2011

Neil Rolnick Covers Much Contemporary Ground in His "Extended Family" Program

Neil Rolnick composes music that goes somewhere. Then the next piece goes somewhere else. He is not one to be pinned down to a single style. He uses whatever expressive stylistic means he sees fit for any given piece. And so it is with Extended Family (Innova 782). Three divergent works come to light herewith.

"Extended Family" (2009) is a lovely, sort of neo-classical sounding string quartet, played very convincingly by the quartet ETHEL. The CD liners tell us that this is about Rolnick's family's state of being during and after his father's death. It's something you do not need to know to appreciate the music, which has depth and dignified stature, movement and motor-liveliness.

"Faith" (2008-9) features improvising pianist Bob Gluck (see my review of his new trio disk on these pages, last Friday's posting) and Rolnick on laptop electronics. It addresses the theme of believing or disbelieving and what that entails. Again, though, it is music that could be about many things; it is primarily music and secondarily program. Bob Gluck turns in some very interesting playing. Rolnick's electronic complements bring a nice timbral contrast and second line counter-commentary. It has some of the looseness of jazz and Maestro Gluck seems to be given latitude not just for expressive rubato, but improvisation per se. It works and sounds well.

The final piece "MONO Prelude" is a performance piece with Rolnick narrating his experience with a hearing disorder that came upon him suddenly as a result of a viral infection. Laptop computer brings electronics into the picture as a counter element and narrative backdrop. It is a moving account of something that someone with a musical life-sentence would (and does) find traumatic and harrowing. This piece is very successful as narrative, less so as music. No matter, really, because it is only ten minutes of what is a very engaging and variegated program.

Rolnick writes music that speaks naturally. The unfoldings of sound events and cadences are like conversations between good friends. I've grown fond of this one. It may not change the musical world but it will give your life a little life through the hearing of it. Pretty great performances of interesting music. That can never be a bad thing.

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