Monday, February 28, 2011
Shawn Bell and His Hard-Bopping Bone: "Things Yet Unknown"
You don't need to be re-told this, but it is OK to revisit an historically older style if you are sincere, dedicated to it, have something to say in its idiom and do it convincingly. That would pretty much sum up Shawn Bell [on his recent Things Yet Unknown (self-released) album], his trombone, his compositions, his band and the Blue Note Classic Hard-Bop sound. It's a sextet with trombone, trumpet, fluegelhorn, piano, bass and drums. The three-horn front line lends itself to those classic voicings from Dameron through to Shorter-Hubbard-Morgan-Fuller-Mobley and their various combinatory groupings.
This has that sound and it has it in more than a rote sense. The band plays with fire and conviction (and with cool as warranted), all of them. Shawn Bell gets that JJ-Fuller righteous brightness to his tone that is very nice to hear. The originals go right into the center of the style. The other soloists are convincing too, as is the rhythm section.
You don't feel as you listen to the album that anything has been lost or watered down, though I do miss Philly Joe bashing back there! It's a loving immersion in a wonderful style. Dig it if you dare!
Friday, February 25, 2011
Eastern Boundary Quartet Melds Amerfree Improv with Hungarian Strains
The Eastern Boundary Quartet joins a freely inspired Michael Jeffry Stevens on piano and Joe Fonda on bass with two Hungarian practitioners of the jazz arts: Mihaly Borbely on sax and tarogato; Balazs Bagyi on the drums. The group recorded Icicles (Konnex 5258) in Budapest at the end of 2009 and it is a widely encompassing set of band originals, freely stated.
Michael Jeffry Stevens is one of the more accomplished and distinctive of the not-yet-household-name improvisatory pianists out there today and there is ample room on this set for his soaring harmonic-melodic lyricism (hear the title cut, for example); but there is also the harder-edged rocking free propulsion side here as well. Joe Fonda exemplifies the accomplished musical force that combines technique with discernment. Balazs Bagyi drums solidly and musically. Mihaly Borbely has a gorgeous tone and shows a fleet inventiveness throughout.
Every piece on this date shows another side of the band and the compositional ingenuity of each bandmember. Bagyi's "Soft Balkan Wind" brings in the more traditional Hungarian element with minor-mode tarogato brilliantly shining forth to a tom-driven drumming that suggests an indigenous dance. "Borders" goes even further in that direction, but also interjects driving afro-rhythms and dissonant splashes.
In the end it is the meeting of the Eastern European with the pan-national modern-jazz sensibility that makes this album a great listen.
Everyone contributes to this effort. And a fine effort it is.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
MAC Gollehon's "Straight Ahead" Virtual Big Band
Trumpeter-trombonist-arranger Mac Gollehon has done something that is far from easy to pull off. He's created big band charts and then realized all the trumpet and trombone parts by overdubbing (except for the bass trombone, which is in the capable hands of Sam Burtis). He's then fleshed out the rest of the group with some notably great players--Victor Lewis, Warren Smith, Ronny Cuber, Ron McClure (where has he been?) and others.
The result is a swinging old-school big band date aptly titled Straight Ahead (American Showcase). The arrangements are in the idiom, and there are choice chestnuts like "Lush Life," "Round Midnight" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," as well as originals.
Ron Cuber plays some absolutely devastating bop baritone, almost of the bar-walking sort. Mac is convincing as a trombone soloist and his trumpet spots sometimes go for the high-notes a la Maynard Ferguson but in general stay close to the pocket.
It's quite a feat, but more importantly it's a lively, swinging big band date that could have been made in 1962. Yeah, it's good and Mr. Cuber kicks some serious butt here.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Christopher Campbell, Sound the All-Clear
Composer Christopher Campbell and six other musicians do something on Sound the All Clear (Innova 750) that, while not being brand-spanking-new in concept, is done very musically and convincingly. They create 12 vignettes, some short, some in the ten-minute range, that use a variety of instruments to create a sound that incorporates world and home-made elements into an aesthetically vibrant whole. Alan Sondheim did something like this on several albums in the sixties and the DIY tradition continued with such outfits as Iowa Ear Music in the seventies and some other ensembles up through to today as well.
What matters is that Campbell and company do it very well. There are brilliant, ever-shifting sonorities on this set that put the music very much above the pale. A plethora of traditionally nontraditional playing techniques and the guiding conceptual hand of Maestro Campbell make for a most lively program.
This is my kind of music: world-encompassing, transcendent, free yet structured, dynamically varied and, well, post-pre-post in outlook. It looks ahead by going back to a stubborn American outsider tradition spanning Ives' experiments, Partch's exotically alien universe, Lou Harrison, Henry Brant, Sondheim and the rest. Campbell goes back in order to go forward. His music doesn't really sound like any of those forebears. It IS a very interesting example that carries on the neo-non-traditional-tradition of those fore-fathers (and some fore-mothers too).
Viva Christopher Campbell and this music!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Gil Evans Centennial Project Announced, Artist Share Coordinates
Artist Share, the web-based program that invites listeners and enthusiasts to help fund worthy musical productions, recently launched a drive to fund the Gil Evans Centennial Project, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of Gil Evans' birth. The object is to produce a recording realizing a number of Gil Evans scores that have never previously been recorded.
Artist Share makes it possible to have an impact on the music scene by helping to fund recordings and their release. Participants can pre-order a CD or download of the project and help in this way, or they can contribute various amounts as a sponsor. It is an interesting way to get music out that might not otherwise see the light of day. CIMP has been doing something similar for a number of years as well.
Go to http://gilevansproject.com/Projects/ExperienceartistID=279&projectID=376&langID=1 to find out more.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 6:00 AM No comments:
Luther Thomas's Probingly Incisive Alto in A Good Setting
There are a number of the late Luther Thomas's recordings on Ayler records. One of the very best is the download digital release of Finally! Total Unity in 3 Phases (aylDL-041). It's a 2006 quartet date that brings some lucid Thomas alto sax within the context of the ubiquitous Jeffry Hayden Shurdut on guitar and drums, Ed Chang on computer electronics, home-made reeds and tenor, and Motoko Shimizu on toys, recorder and voice. The quartet sets up interesting textural clouds of freely articulated sounds that are pieced by some very vibrant Thomas alto.
This is pretty much free improvisation all the way. It is distinguished by an interesting mix of electronics, little instrument sounds and Luther Thomas at his freely expressive best. Click on the Ayler link on this page for further details.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Brian Groder, His "Cartolologia Suite"
Trumpeter, composer, bandleader Brian Groder is happening. We reviewed the album he made with the legendary pianist Burton Greene on these pages (see below). And he has been pursuing his own projects with zeal.
Several weeks ago he premiered his "Cartologia Suite" for mid-sized jazz ensemble in New York City. I was unable to catch it but you get some idea of what was involved by going to his site www.briangroder.com, clicking on "projects," and then streaming a solo piano rendition of most of the work. There is substance there and we can only hope that the ensemble version of the piece will be recorded in the the near future. Oh and you'll find a stream of his "Suite for Dance" on that page too. It's worth a listen, all of it.
Posted by Grego Applegate Edwards at 4:37 AM No comments:
Labels: brian groder, jazz composers, jazz compositions
Friday, February 18, 2011
Ursel Schlicht and Reuben Radding: Einstein's Dreams
Ursel Schlicht, pianist, composer, educator, we have seen via a number of postings here and on the guitar site; bassist Reuben Radding should also be no stranger to regular readers of my blogs. They both in their own way have strongly original approaches to improvisation, which their CD collaboration Einstein's Dreams (Konnex 5165) well attests.
This is a full set of improvisations captured live at Location One, NYC, in 2004. The two run through an inspired series of freely improvised spontaneous compositions. Interplay is excellent, while each manages to bring out a concern with sound and texture they both are known to espouse. The approach may be familiar but the outcome is not. I find Ursel's pianism to be of a very high order. She is ultra-modern without relying on what others have done for inspiration. Beautifully complex chords, melodic gems of irregular phrasing, dynamics, and an ever-inventive musical imagination is what she is about. Reuben is a perfect counterpart. He listens and creates consistently interesting counterlines. She takes in what he is doing and responds accordingly.
The Schlicht-Radding way is marvelously subtle yet never lacking in vitality.
This is so-called "free" music of a stubbornly self-determined sort. It goes where it may, not willy-nilly, but with a clear vision of what it can and does become.
Discover these two weighty improvisers on this disk and you'll be happy for the experience, I would think. I look forward to what the two of them will be doing in the near future. Bring in an equally inventive drummer and some kinetic magic is bound to occur. In the meantime the magic is there already, as heard on this fine offering.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Esther Lamneck, Tarogato; Roberto Fabbriciani, Hyperbass Flute
Not everything musically is what you expect. So sometimes you come to expect the unexpected. And in the case of Winds of the Heart, the album of tarogato and hyperbass flute duets by Esther Lamneck and Roberto Fabbriciani (Innova 239), you most certainly get it.
First let me just clarify that the tarogato is related to the soprano sax and has roots in ancient instruments used in Hungary, Romania and Turkey. The hyperbass flute is just that. If you've ever leafed through woodwind catalogs, you'll know such an instrument is not going to be cheap. But I digress.
Esther Lamneck plays the tarogato in ways that resonate with the Gypsy roots of the instrument. She gets into long snaky, freely unfolding lines that also suggest Coltrane's later work with the soprano sax as well as the current improvisations of Evan Parker. Mr. Fabbriciani uses the deep tones of the hyperbass flute to his advantage but also takes advantage of the overtone possibilities to get textured upper notes, and also uses a number of non-standard articulations and vocalising to realize a wide spectrum of sounds.
All that being said, this CD presents 14 short- to middle-length duets that concentrate on free avant expression. Esther tends to be fleet; Roberto more in the horizontally oriented longer-toned sound world. He also can get interestingly percussive tones by emitting short bursts of air into the instrument and letting it resonate. Either way the contrast between the two players works well.
I don't imagine this program will appeal to all. Those who embrace the free-er musics out there will be at home with it. This is a rarified sound universe. Those willing to take the time to adjust to it will find alternatingly exhilarating and meditative moments to savor in this unusual offering.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Markus Reuter's "Todmorden 513:" Algorithmic Poetics
Markus Reuter has created an hour-long piece for ten players based on the algorithmic trans- formation, extension and reordering of musical material. He calls the work Todmorden 513. That the work is the product of some sophisticated methodological approaches is not uninteresting. But I've stayed away from that at this point to concentrate on a deep listening of the work.
And having done this I come up for air to write up what I am feeling as I hear it. First off I must say that this is a continuously flowing sound world of great beauty and great mystery. It has the long formed horizontal quality of the best ambient works of our age. And at the same time it has a logically unfolding quality and structure that brings it into the "serious work" category. I am tempted to add "whatever that means," but I think those who devote any time to the new music world we live in will understand. This is music of substance, not just mood.
It is music that has a four-dimensional feel to it. There are varying degrees of density and depth, transparency and opacity. It is lyrical without being directly manipulative of the melodic cells usually associated with such lyricism. Long tones and shorter bursts work together to create a universe of sound that has real poignancy. It is music of a different sort of consonance, a long float in an anechoic chamber of tones, added tones, and sound colors of enduring sprawl.
I would venture to say that this is an important work. How important I will leave to others to decide.
Go to http://www.todmorden513.com to find out how to get access to this music.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The Microscopic Septet Play Monk
As time goes by it becomes more and more clear that the music of Thelonious Monk has become a backbone of the jazz repertoire. At one time there was a great deal of lip service about his genius but not all that many covers. The more we go on in time, the less that is true.
The long-lived, always interesting Microscopic Sextet have a sort of quirkiness to them that makes their full attention to Monk's music logical and fortuitous (fortunate, that is).
And so it goes with their Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk (Rune 310).
When you think of mid-sized to big-band renditions of Monk's music you naturally think of Hal Overton's Town Hall charts and/or the subsequent Oliver Nelson date, both made w/Monk himself. And Lacy-Rudd-Cherry-Mengelberg interpretations of course stay in the mind too. The Micros do not cleave to any one of these channels but instead do it their way. That means to say they take twelve of the classics and do something in the spirit of that man and his style. There are some ensemble renditions of solos, some nicely voiced versions of the head-melodies, and there are some things that involve the Micros own eccentricities (which surely complement those of Monk).
There are plenty of nice solos from the principals too. And a bit of outness from that corner that should surprise no one.
It's good music that both Monk and Microscopic Sextet aficionados will appreciate. Monk, good to go!
Monday, February 14, 2011
"Dew Point," An Impressive DVD from Mikrokolektyw
There are DVDs that feature a literal view of artists in performance; there are DVDs that give you the music tracks and bring only art-visual video onto your screen; and there are those that do both. The new DVD from Polish duo Mikrokolektyw, Dew Point (Delmark DVD 1597) does both. And it does both in a very pleasing way.
There are two versions of the program. One shows the duo on stage playing a live set. Behind them are visual stills and montage video of (what seems to be) a trip on Chicago's El train from the beginning of the line to the heart of downtown. The second program features the music with just the montage video as image, full-screen.
Mikrokolektyw is Kuba Suchar on some very hip drums and Artur Majewski on a plaintive. soulful, post-Milesian trumpet. Both also activate electronics, some of which seem to be MIDI-controlled accompaniment to what is going on live; other devices alter the signals of the live music in various ways.
I've reviewed their last CD on these pages (see the Index). (I Liked it.) The DVD showcases well their rather unique combination of space rock, avant soundscaping and free improvising. It's seemingly a group destined to get increasingly favorable attention as people become accustomed to the way they go about things. They have embarked on an important foray into improvisation and live electronics. May they continue exploring for many more years.
The music, the imagery and the great sound combine to give you a full evening's worth of ART with all caps. Kudos to Mikrokolektyw and kudos to DVD director Raymond Salvatore Harmon.
Friday, February 11, 2011
Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell in Newly Released Duets
Wadada and Ed Blackwell. That's a pairing that makes absolute sense. Yet to my knowledge there has been no recorded evidence of the two together in duet.
Until now. The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (Kabell Records 111) documents a live appearance of the Smith and Blackwell at Brandeis University in 1986. The recording has excellent clarity. It was originally broadcast on local radio.
Comparisons are inevitable with Mu, the two-record set of Blackwell and Don Cherry in duet. That one of course put across a way to keep things interesting and exciting without recourse to a full band. Much of that had to do with Mr. Blackwell's treatment of the drum set as a kind of Afro-percussion ensemble. His work with toms and snare to create cross rhythms of course is legendary and one of the most recognizable drum styles in the history of music.
Blue Mountain is not Mu, nor is it intended to be. The creative trumpeting and conceptual inspiration of Wadada puts things on another wave-length. And Ed Blackwell's drumming at that point had matured and mellowed to a classic series of statements, all essential, nothing superfluous.
There are lots of great things on this set. Wadada does a little singing in a kind of universal Afro-folk channel. It works well. The rest is prime Smith-Blackwell in a loose and free-swinging mode. Only six years later, Eddie Blackwell would be gone from us. Here it is almost 20 years later and his influence and presence are still so strong it is like he never left us. He hasn't. The music is still here to be revered and appreciated. And with Wadada Leo as a running partner on this concert, you could not ask for better company.
I'd say it was a triumph. It is in many ways. But it is also a reminder about how none of us will be here forever. This is music to be savored over the years. This is not the flavor of the month. Dig in, dig it and honor our significant forebears. And those still here, like Wadada, making important music as ever.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Alvin Curran's Moving "Crystal Psalms" For Large Ensemble(s)
In the context of another review on these pages I believe I wrote that I considered Alvin Curran a key figure in the avant garde music scene of the past 50 years. I continue to believe that and I continue to believe posterity will bear me out on that point.
I wont re-rehearse the argument here. I will however talk about one of his gems, the 1988 work for multiple choruses, instrumentalists and pre-recorded tape, Crystal Psalms, which is available if you look for it on a New Albion CD release (NA067CD).
The piece was first performed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a horrifying night in 1938 when the Nazis began the pogram-holicaustic violence against Jews in (deadly) earnest.
Curran's work is disturbing, of course. How could it not be? But it is much more than that. The work was designed to be broadcast live in most of the major European cities. Six radio stations scattered across Europe handled the simultaneous six-way performance of the piece, each with a moderate-sized chorus, a string or wind quartet and an accordionist. None of the groups could hear what the others were doing, but the realization was coordinated (via a time track) so that all six musical groups played their parts in synch. Complementing these musical ensembles were taped sounds of glass shattering, Cantors, a shofar horn, praying at the wailing wall, percussion barrages and other evocative sounds. Radio audiences heard a mix of all six audio feeds which represented the score in its totality.
It is a long, sprawlingly gigantic, enormously moving work. It should not be missed.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Anthony De Mare and "Speak:" Text-Sound-Song Artistry
Anthony De Mare, pianist, vocalist, dramatist, story-teller, is one-in-a-million. He realizes works that call upon his considerable talents to enact compositional dramas in a quasi-sprechstimme way. He narrates, sings, recites, provides vocal-sound elements and accompanies himself on the piano, all at the same time. You can hear it to good advantage on his definitive album Speak! The Singing-Speaking Pianist (Innova 241).
These are performance pieces composed by the likes of Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, Frederic Rzewski, and three others.
The coordination and masterful execution of vocalise, singing, exclamatory assertion and pianistic punctuation is nothing short of extraordinary.
This fellow is very good! The pieces have enough in the way of music, story and pacing that time goes by quite quickly. And it is time spent to good use. In a way, this is the thinking person's Broadway, the hipster's alternative to opera, the musical equivalent of a very dynamic poetry reading, theater for those jaded with the usual claptrap.
It's a trip that you will very much enjoy if you have an open mind.
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Jason Robinson, Solo Sax and Live Electronics
OK, Jason Robinson has released three excellent albums lately. There's the stunning duet disk with Anthony Davis (see this blog, below), there's the powerful sextet date (see yesterday's posting on my Gapplegate Guitar blogsite) and then there's his solo date Cerberus Reigning (Accretions 1), which is what we are about today.
In some ways this last piece of the three-chunk puzzle of Mr. Robinson the musician today is the most astonishing. It's just Jason on tenor, soprano, the gorgeous alto flute, and computer. The computer part enables real-time electronic alteration and augmentation, made possible by Ableton Live software and something Jason names as Cycling '74's Max/MSP. There's also a program he calls "Synchronous Aether." It evaluates the live music signal as it is made, and based on various parameters provides a complementary electronic voice to what is going on at any given time.
What you get with all this is some very interesting music. Jason plays compelling solo and/or structural-melodic cells on his various winds and electronically a kind of all-Jason orchestra appears as the end sonic result.
These sorts of exercises can sound random or they can sound disjointed. None of that here. Mr. Robinson has conceived of the music carefully so that it has movement, flow, contrast and memorability.
It is one of the most effective, musically fulminous and pleasurably contrasting programs I have ever heard in the solo & electronics realm. I think even people who don't think they like electronics will be forced to reconsider. That's their business though. For me, this is first-rate music. I'd say it is a tour de force, but that's become the cliche of critic's phrases. It's a tour de Robinson? OK, that.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut's Incendiary "Allemansratten"
From time to time I've been taking a look at Ayler Records' Download Only releases, which form a rather considerable body of work. Today we consider Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut's Allemansratten (Ayler Download 045).
This is a free-blowing date with Mike Fortune on drums, Mr. Shurdut on electric guitar and the three-horn lineup of Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe and Nick Gianni (with Gianni also playing some Mandolin). It was recorded in the summer of 2005 at Fortune in Brooklyn, NY.
Jeffrey has been quite prolific in recent years with CD-ROM releases of free music. One might dub him the Eddie Condon of free jazz, in the sense that his guitar work on the date at hand is more felt than heard, and his principal role here is as organizer and facilitator.
There's a motif in seven that starts things off. From there the music centers around the free-blowing, collective improvising of the three saxophonists and the post-Sunny-Murray drumming of Mr. Fortune, for the most part.
What's nice about this one is the inspired saxophony. Each player has a distinct sound and attack, and they work together in classically free ways.
In the end I felt the exhilaration of the energy surge such impassioned free playing can bring. I also was left with the desire to hear more! This is a nice one if you like the free blowout. It goes for $10. See the Ayler link on this site.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Benjamin Herman and the Special Edition of Hypochristmastreefuzz
Benjamin Herman is a gas. Before you start trying to fill helium balloons with him, mind that he is a MUSICAL gas.
He has a tribute disk to the music of Misha Mengelberg, Hypochristmastreefuzz ((Dox 096), the original version of which was released in 2008. The Special Edition is a two-CD set that includes a live disk. It's all good.
Mr. Herman's alto sax is searing throughout. The music has that eccentric exuberance that Misha has always been known for. The studio date has a five-piece band plus vocalist and three-person "choir." The live disk pairs down to a quartet. The rhythm section cooks, Anton Goudsmit plays a very lively in & out electric guitar, and things go from mad bop to tongue-in-cheek secret agent instrumental, with much in between.
This is wonderful music. It gives you the wild and wooly, everything goes kind of Netherlandish jazz that when done well is so contagiously joyful. It is done well.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
The Concorde Music Ensemble's "Reflections:" Music of the Past Decade
The music of the last ten years illustrates even more vividly the trend of the past 20 years. In the area of contemporary classical music, multi-stylistic expression and a creative eclecticism prevail. No one school of composition dominates. The musical signposts of classical composition from around 1900 through to 2011 are all present on the map of what's being written today. And certain inclusions of folk and vernacular influences are present that perhaps have not heretofore been a part of the various approaches of the recent past as well.
That is clear and also very well illustrated by Ireland's Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble and their new CD Reflections (Navona 5835). The album features five composers and works from the past decade that call upon anything from a mid-sized chamber ensemble to a duet. The composers are from a wide variety of backgrounds, but all share a commitment to making a music that is embedded in the world we live in today. The five composers, Alejandro Castanos, Jane O'Leary, Stephen Gardner, Judith Ring and Si-Hyun Yi each weigh in with a distinctive work. Highlights include Castanos' "Angulos" which has a lively rhythmic thrust and some of the best writing for temple blocks I have heard! Gardner's "Klezmeria" uses Klezmer related themes for a thoroughly charming clarinet-violin duet.
Through the various compositions a near-constant is the very formidable bass clarinet of Harry Sparnaay. He sounds beautiful.
If you want some very new music that is advanced without necessarily jarring loose the fillings in your teeth, seek no further.
It is a definite feather in the cap of the Concorde Ensemble, who plays these pieces beautifully, as it is a fascinating introduction to some very new music and new composers. Recommended.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Bob Gluck and Trio Present "Something Quiet"
My impression of Bob Gluck, from what I know of him, is that he is a man with a lot on, or rather in his mind. He is also a pianist of real accomplishment. Put those two things together, add the painstakingly original soprano sax of Joe Giardullo and the big-toned, eloquent bass of Christopher Dean Sullivan, allow them to freely elaborate seven Bob Gluck compositions, and you have something very worthwhile.
That's what you get on the new Gluck recording Something Quiet (FMR 294-0810). It's a "free" date with plenty of room for (mostly quiet) thoughtful expression.
Bob shows the subtle sensitivity of a pianist who has listened carefully to what's good in improvisational music today and also has had classical training (which comes out especially in a rubato lyricism). He makes of all of the raw sensations gained from exploring the musical scene and the diligent schooling into an original approach. Joe Giardullo adds the spice of a soprano sound that is penetrating without being piercing, that has the control, timbre, and phrasing of a master. Christopher Dean Sullivan brings in the bottom as a third line-creating voice. He doesn't accompany as much as he contributes to the musical dialog.
Put all that together and you get music that challenges your ears at the same time as it delivers musico-logical brilliance. It would be a good one for those who are intimidated by the more abrasive high-energy onslaughts of the wild-man contingent of free music making (which I love also but that's another matter) yet wish to explore what this free sort of music is about. It also will please those who are already well into the new music.
In short this has much going for it. I'd love to hear what this lineup would do with the addition of a drummer, but that's for another occasion. This is more in the chamber jazz realm and it's an excellent example of that to boot.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Jexper Holmen's Oort Cloud: Sustained Sound-Poetry at a High Level
What is an Oort Cloud? It is a massive cloud of comets that surrounds our part of the universe, a great distance away in human terms, but local presumably on the infinite universe level.
Danish composer Jexper Holmen has composed an hour-long work based on the contemplation of that formation. It is entitled Oort Cloud and has just been recorded and released as a Dacapo Records CD (8-226562).
When I worked at Scientific American books, the then-president referred to comets in a launch meeting as "those snoozy things." True. Get one of them in isolation, they are rather just "there." Put them in an Oort Cloud surrounding our friendly neighborhood universe-space and they become rather mysterious and at this point, ineffable.
The same might be said for Holmen's composition. One minute of it will not bring you to your feet with shouts of "Bravo!" An hour of this music very well might. That's because it's the cumulative effect of the musical cloud, hovering over our aural world, that becomes increasingly mystical, as it were, in its ever-presence.
The nuts and bolts of it are as follows: there are two accordionists and what sounds like an alto or soprano sax, situated in a resonant performance space. The accordions play continuous key-less tone clusters that shift gradually note-wise and vary in dynamic levels. The saxophonist gives out periodically with long multiphonic blasts and quieter soundings of same, as well as overtone-rich sustain notes. The key operative here is "sustain." The music is a continuous series of long tones that form collectively a kind of musical equivalent to the Oort Cloud.
It's ambient. It has patches that are fairly dissonant. The resonance of the performance chamber and the continually shifting blocks of unusual sound clusters make for an aural experience that has a kind of expansive effect on the perceiving hearer. It can become a kind of meditation on the mysteries of the universe and that cloud of comets that ring our world. That was what I began feeling as I listened over time.
There is nothing quite like this piece out there.You may love it, you may hate it, but you cannot ignore it. That says something. In that way, as in other ways as well, this music is a ringing success. Don't go near it, though, if you expect some kind of entertainment. It is rather more serious than that. It's almost a form of knowledge. For all that, it is unparalleled among works being produced today.
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