Posts in Review
A/B Duo's "commitment to widening the repertoire and to fresh, vibrant new music"

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:4 (Mar/Apr 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.

VARIETY SHOW • A/B Duo • AEROCADE 005 (61:41)

MCGOWAN  Ricochet. DICKE  Isla. REINKEMEYER  Wrought Iron. BAKER  Limb. BROWNING  Sol Moon Rocker. FREDERICKSON  Breathing Bridge. RANDALL-MYERS Glitch.

A previous disc by Meerenai Shim on the Aerocade label (001, Fanfare 40:2) was mesmeric and fascinating. Here, Shim is joined by percussionist Christopher G. Jones: Together they fashion a sequence of soundscapes the like of which you may not have encountered before. 

First, a warning. Make sure, if you are listening on headphones, that the volume is set nice and low for the first track. I didn’t, to my cost. The disc announces itself assertively with a conversation between staccato contrabass flute (used in the manner of a percussion instrument) and percussion. This opens Ned McGowan’s Ricochet for contrabass flute, floor tom, three suspended cymbals, three woodblock, triangle, and flexatone. It is worth reproducing the scorings for each piece, as they give some idea of the sounds each one works with. The idea of ricochet evokes both the idea of game and of conversation, although if it is the latter this is a pretty full-on, wide-eyed discussion. Rhythms are fantastically (sometimes frantically) taut. The A/B Duo commissioned this work, a measure of their commitment to widening the repertoire and to fresh, vibrant new music. 

A remix of Isla Ferrari’s Isla de Niños, Ian Dicke’s Isla for flute, vibraphone, and live audio processing takes a line that is itself relaxed and garlands it with a plethora of active, energy-laden lines. The tension between the two elements forms both the starting point and the basis of the piece. Effective use of audio processing in the sampling and juxtaposition of syllables at one point forms the backdrop to a vibraphone solo. 

Andrea L. Reinkemeyer’s Wrought Iron for flute, vibraphone, bongos, tambourine, triangle, china cymbal, and splash cymbal is a musical response to a building, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. In a rather neat conceit, the various shapes used in the hall itself determine the types of instruments used: triangles are the obvious instance, but circles also (cymbals, bongos, tambourine) and rectangles (vibraphone). The architect also tried to make metal look like stone, and in the spirit of referencing others, the composer invokes the ghosts of Beethoven and Chopin, both of whom are to be found within the confines of the hall itself. There is an intricacy to the players’ interactions that seems, to the present writer at least, to invoke or reflect some sort of physical design. Ensemble between the two players needs to be particularly tight in this piece, and the result is indeed magical. 

Drew Baker’s Limb for flute/piccolo, vibraphone, Thai gong, wind gong, and three crotales, finds cymbal evoking the crashing waves of the ocean. It opens quietly, hesitantly. The work is a response to the “scribble line drawings” of Sol LeWitt. Both LeWitt and Baker are involved with what Baker refers to as sensuality of gesture, and through simple but effective means Baker draws up an imposing, and imaginative, soundscape. As the booklet notes, state, “this piece is exceptionally soft and loud.” And although the track has been compressed “to save your eardrums,” it is still worth pointing out that you have been warned. If you wish to serve your masochistic side, there is an uncompressed version available by request and the email address is given in the documentation. Simple but effective, the piece paints gestures over relatively large durations. 

Scored just for flute and vibraphone, Sol Moon Rocker by Zack Browning is another A/B Duo commission. It has a philosophic basis, the dynamic between yin and yang, between Moon and Sun. Intriguingly, the second part of the work is generated by applying Feng Shui principles to the birth dates of both present performers. It gets deeper still: the section “Meerenai’s Moon Flight” is generated also by the Magic Square of the Moon; “Sol of Chris” has a similar basis, using the Sun Magic Square. References to relevant popular music are there, too: It’s a Man’s World (James Brown), Ladies’ Night(Kool and the Gang), and The Sun and the Moon have Come Together by The Fourth Way. It’s quite the tapestry, and it works brilliantly. There is actually a spirit of joy that suffuses the musical surface of Browning’s piece; quotations have a sort of exuberance about them. The final section offers a synthesis between male and female. The idea is wonderful: One wonders if some elements of alchemical theory could have been worked in there also? 

Scored for flute with glissando headjoint, glockenspiel, and vibraphone, Brooks Frederickson’s Breathing Bridge carries an entreaty: “If you’re ever in Brooklyn, listen to or imagine this piece while walking on pedestrian bridges around Red Hook.” On this bridge, one feels viscerally the vibrations of passing vehicles; lines in Frederickson’s piece represent the bridge’s structure. There is much delicacy here; the performance is simply beautiful. If one were to make that walk (no opportunity to research that; I’m afraid as I’ve never been to even America, never mind anywhere as specific as Brooklyn), one can only imagine an altered experience, a different and enriching way of experiencing the environment. 

Finally, there comes Brendon Randall-Myers’s Glitch for flute, vibraphone, and drum set. In contrast to the lulling aura of the preceding track, Glitch is colorful. Written for the A/B Duo’s “quirkiness, virtuosity, humor and groove,” it imagines a “prog-punk video game music cover that can’t decide what tunes to play or what tempo to play at” resulting in some “bizarrely hilarious musical collisions.” That promise is certainly lived up to in this rather garish ride. It does rather sound as if the players are having fun, too. The notes make a point of announcing that Christopher G. Jones plays the vibraphone with his left side and the drum set with his right side. Patting one’s head and rubbing one’s tummy at the same time? There is a slower, more shaded section that provides contrast, as if offering cool shade before re-entering the bright sunshine. 

The booklet notes for this disc can be found at both abduo.net and aerocademusic.com. Colin Clarke

Post-Haste Reed Duo - a "surprisingly diverse and intriguing combo"

Thank you Oregon Arts Watch for reviewing Post-Haste Reed Duo's album!

Brett Campbell writes, "The unlikely combination of bassoon and saxophones (sometimes with electronic enhancement) makes a surprisingly diverse and intriguing combo on this release by the duo of Sean Fredenburg and Javier Rodriguez."

Read the rest at Oregon Arts Watch.

"first-rate performances" in A/B Duo's Variety Show!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:4 (Mar/Apr 2017) of Fanfare Magazine.

VARIETY SHOW • A/B Duo • AEROCADE 005 (61:41)

MCGOWAN  Ricochet. DICKE  Isla. REINKEMEYER  Wrought Iron. BAKER  Limb. BROWNING  Sol Moon Rocker. FREDERICKSON  Breathing Bridge. RANDALL-MYERS Glitch.

With this duo release, the Aerocade label continues along its path of presenting excellent recent compositions in excellent sound. I’ll admit to unfamiliarity with the composers whose works are on offer here, but their quality and intrigue is matched by first-rate performances and a very warm but detailed recording. 

One of the most satisfying pieces on this well-filled disc is Ian Dicke’s Isla, composed in 2012. Dicke follows in the footsteps of such composers as Scott Johnson and Pierre Boulez in that he integrates acoustic and electronic soundworlds quite convincingly into this widely varied piece for flute, vibraphone, and live audio processing. Like Johnson, speech is an integral component, but in this case, it is chopped up into micro-fragments that mirror and drive the instrumental rhythms and timbres forward. The A/B Duo creates an integrated yet somehow also heterogeneous sound, and this is also the case on the rhythmically dizzying Glitch, by Brendan Randall-Myers, composed in 2015 and commissioned by the Duo. There, the electronic world has a direct influence on how acoustic instruments are played, bringing those early Stockhausen visions to some kind of fruition. The electronic soundscapes on which this constantly changing piece is based recall the improvised music of trios such as Phronesis, Meerenai Shim, and Christopher Jones, and the intimate familiarity here with those sounds is like a Classical-era ensemble handling the rhetoric of contemporaneous dance forms, to site only one example. 

If all of this sounds too far afield of the classical music mainstream, take heart, as there’s even some of what Frank Zappa called “a bit of nostalgia for the old folks.” Andrea Reinkemeyer composed Wrought Iron (2012, on a commission from the Albany Symphony and for the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, an acoustically marvelous space I’ve loved for many years). The piece takes on tropes like Debussy and Ravel, and possibly a little Stravinsky thrown in for good measure; it’s hauntingly melodic and fun, dancing and almost running its way forward. There may even be a little Zappa in the syncopation and in the whimsical handling of modes. 

While I single out these works for discussion, every piece in this program is well worth hearing. As with the other discs on this new label, programming is superb, the instrumentation creating unity while variety is maintained by the order of pieces and of composers. I await future Aerocade releases with eager anticipation. Marc Medwin

The Wire Magazine calls The Kuiper Belt "affably perplexing"
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Tristan Bath reviewed The Kuiper Belt by Alchymie & Gregg Skloff in the February 2017 issue of The Wire Magazine:

"The line between the highly respected field of drone and its far less cool cousin new age has oft been smudged. When modern experimentalist Robert Lowe met up with veteran new ager Ariel Kalma last year, they buoyed each other for what became perhaps the most crowd-pleasing release for either party. There was enough sweet synth and water babbling to please the hippies, yet it avoided joss stick chillout just enough for the chin scratching intelligentsia.

This meet-up between nimble improvising double bassist Gregg Skloff and drifting keyboardist Jennifer Theuer Ruzicka aka Alchymie achieves a similar balancing act."

"Fittingly, the title of The Kuper Belt refers to the furthest reaches of our solar system from Neptune outwards: an ample subject for cosmic jazz, drone, or new age alike."

Read the rest at The Wire Magazine.

Another review for Scordatura and "Addario-Berry’s superb virtuosity"

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

SCORDATURA • Hannah Addario-Berry (vc) • AEROCADE 004 (77:09)

KODÁLY Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8. B. MILLER Miniatures, Book 3: Koans. A. ROSE Lands End. E. CLARK Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV. JUSTEN Sonaquifer. COONS Myth’s Daughter. LIU Calor

Kodály’s Sonata for Solo Cello dates from 1915. An early twentieth century answer to Bach’s music for unaccompanied cello, it shows the influences of Claude Debussy and Béla Bartók had on him. This sonata also shows the way he used the native Hungarian folk music that he and Bartók loved to work into their pieces. Over a hundred years later on this recording, the solo cello sonata becomes a base that undergirds the varied styles employed by twenty-first century composers of music for the solo cello. The recording is called Scordatura because all of the featured works use the same altered tuning required by Kodály in his solo cello sonata.  Kodály’s music requires the cellist to cover the instrument’s entire range from the highest delicate tones to the strongest bass notes, so this fine rendition of his solo cello sonata gives the listener an idea of Hannah Addario-Berry’s superb virtuosity. Janos Starker, who actually played the Kodaly sonata for its composer, recorded it for Delos in 1992. That is the most definitive recording but, because of technological improvements over the years, not necessarily the easiest one to enjoy. I would suggest owning the Starker for study and the Addario-Berry for simple enjoyment.

Hannah Addario-Berry commissioned each of the six widely varying new works heard on this disc. Composer Brent Miller, managing director of The Center for New Music in San Francisco, describes “koans” in Book 3 of his Miniatures. Koans are stories, dialogues, questions, or statements used in Zen practice to test students’ progress. Miller scores the piece for cello, voice and dice. The text is from The Gateless Gate, a collection of Zen koans and commentary compiled by Chinese Zen master Wumen Huikai.

Alisa Rose’s Lands End is a musical hike along Northern California’s Lands End Trail that leaves city and suburbs for the untamed nature of a dirt trail that skirts the Pacific Ocean. Rose’s rhythmic fiddling has an old time feeling because she uses open strings as drones and drums. Violinist Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark specializes in new and experimental music. His Ekpyrotic Layerings IV for Solo Cello and Tape requires the cellist not only to change the tuning of the strings but also to place pins on them that give them bell-like tones. The result is a fascinating romp through inventive composition. Gloria Justen’s Sonaquifer makes my mind see a dance of celebration when dusty travelers find a source of clean drinking water for humans and animals in the middle of California’s broiling desert.

If you remember a parent reading a fairy tale to you, Myth’s Daughter will whisper sweet sonorities in your welcoming ears.  Step into the musical garden and it will hold you in its thrall.

Addario-Berry’s final work for this performance is Jerry Liu’s Calor, which is Spanish for heat. Here the cellist mesmerizes the listener with hot rhythms and shows us the beauty of an unrestrained sun. The pristine sound on this Aerocade recording allows cello, voice and percussive sounds to be heard as clearly as if the listener was in a well built recital hall. I enjoyed the variety of compositions Addario-Berry commissioned and hope she will continue to help talented composers get their cello music in front of the public. Maria Nockin

"Shim is a superb soloist, her virtuosity seemingly endless."

Thank you Fanfare Magazine for another review for Meerenai Shim's Pheromone!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

PHEROMONE • Meerenai Shim (fl); 1Jacob Abela (pn) • AEROCADE 001 (44:01)

FIELDSTEEL Fractus III: Aerophoneme. G. C. BROWN Huge Blank Canvas Neck Tattoo. O’HALLORAN 1Pencilled Wings. LAUSTSEN 60.8%. SCHANKLER 1Pheromone. M. J. PAYNE Étude for Contrabass Flute and TI83+ Calculator

This is an all-electroacoustic album. The inspiration was actually the first track, Fractus III: Aerophoneme (2011/12) by Eli Fieldsteel for “flute and live electronic sound”. Replete with extended performance techniques for the soloist and electronic sounds that seem primal in origin (the Supercollider software was used). There is also the feeling of great expanses around the ten-minute mark, while to the present writer at least the subsequent effects around eleven-twelve minutes in seem to evoke some sort of post-nuclear wind. Shim is a superb soloist, her virtuosity seemingly endless.

There is virtually no gap between the end of the Fieldsteel and the wonderfully titled Huge Black Canvas Neck Tattoo by Gregory C. Brown (2014). This piece, for alto flute and digital delay (using Ableton Live software) is, despite the images evoked by its title, much more approachable. Tape loops as used by Stockhausen spring to mind as the lines accrue and begin to interact and co-mingle; the very lowest register of this flute is so resonant it comes across as a bass flute, although only alto flute is credited. The busier sections are remarkably effective, as are the whimsical, flight moments elsewhere. The same software is used in Douglas Lausten’s 60.8% for bass flute and electronics (2014). The title refers to the unemployment rate in Greece and the piece is inspired by the hardship encompassing the Greek nation of late. The ghost of rebetiko music underpins the material, while the Greek flavor is unmistakable.

Elusive and soft textured, Emma O’Halloran’s Pencilled Wings, also of 2014, features pianist Jacob Abela (on a Yamaha concert grand). The soft-grained stereo playback audio file that underpins it all creates this relaxing ambience. The piece from which the album gets its name, Pheromone by Isaac Schankler (2014) is for flute (standard and bass), piano and electronics (MAX/MSP). The piano’s contribution is initially very gentle, and beautifully managed here; the piece gradually slows to a meditative space before inviting in frenzy.

Finally, Matthew Joseph Payne’s Etude for contrabass flute and TI83 Plus graphing calculator. Shim records audio directly from the calculator. There is a quite involved story of how the piece came to be a half-step lower and slower than the original because of a memory leak bus destroyed the original calculator part before the composer recorded it. What we really need to know, of course, is that the piece is phenomenal fun. Brief and to the point, it is also wonderfully unique in feel. Somewhat otherwordly, some might feel; others may find it links to computer game “soundtracks” (if so they could be called in those days) of the 1980s.

Colin Clarke

"Variety Show" featured in Best of Bandcamp Contemporary Classical

"One of the highlights is “Limb,” by composer Drew Baker, who drew inspiration from the large-scale wall drawings of Sol LeWitt—which were usually completed by hired hands from the artist’s designs. They make for a fitting reflection of the composer/performer relationship—particularly in the sonic evocation of small gestures thickening into dense waves. The rest of the album is equally vibrant and wide-ranging." - Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Daily

Read the rest at daily.bandcamp.com.

Fanfare Magazine reviews Beneath a Canopy of Angels...a River of Stars

Another well-deserved review for Post-Haste Reed Duo and their composers!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

BENEATH A CANOPY OF ANGELS…A RIVER OF STARS •  Post-Haste Reed Duo  •  AEROCADE AM002 (50:12)

HUTCHINSON BioMechanics. ANDRIESSEN Lacrimosa. WICKMAN Confluences. SAMMONS Some Thoughts About Time. STEINMETZ Songs and Dances

This, the debut album of the Post-Haste Reed Duo, comprises four commissions and one arrangement specifically for this Portland-based ensemble.

The first piece, Simon Hutchinson’s bioMechanics (2011) uses an electronic track generated from sampled and processed recordings of the Post-Haste Reed Duo. Hutchinson states that our modern lives “are often a blur of the biological and the technical”; his piece sets out to investigate the interactions between technology, itself created by organic beings (humans) to serve our needs, and those human elements themselves. The opposite poles of freedom (including improvisation) and discipline are explored in a fascinating manner. The soundscape itself is highly varied, from the beautiful to the highly rhythmic. The slickness of the performers is remarkable, as is the imagination of the composer in what emerges as a tour de force.

Dutch composer Louis Andriessen (born 1939) contributes Lacrimosa (1991), originally scored for two bassoons and heard here in an arrangement for alto saxophone and bassoon by Jeff Chambers. Slow moving, the pace offers ample time to relish the composer’s use of microtones, so deliciously rendered here. Using the first names of the present performers to generate musical material, Ethan Wickman’s Confluences (2014) for alto saxophone and bassoon includes a spatial element of “coming together” on the performance space itself that is unavailable in an audio-only recording, but nevertheless there is plenty of interest from a musical surface that is nicely varied. There also appears to be an element of humor here, in the first movement; certainly the composer’s touch is appealingly light. Cast in three movements (“Rogue,” Receding Orbits” and “Beneath a canopy of angels … a river of stars”), this is an interesting piece; the close recording emphasizes the instruments’ conversations in the central panel; the final movement (from which the disc derives its title), a poetic examination of the night sky, is a gentile, if technically tricky, dialog between the two instruments.

The composer of the next piece, Lanier Sammons, also produced the album. His Some thoughts about time (2012) consists of six short movements in no fixed order for sax, bassoon and (intermittently) electronics. The piece seeks to explore theories of musical time: perhaps the super-extended long note of the opening of the initial “Bound” acts as a launch pad for these ponderings. The rather bouncy third movement, “Strata,” is terrifically involving in its complexity; the otherworldly sound of the final “Patience” seems to sum up the strange fascination of this music.

Finally, Songs and Dances (2013) for soprano saxophone and bassoon by John Steinmetz, an outgrowth of some of the composer’s favored music, encompasses a Bach aria, drum patterns from a West African processional, an American folk song (“Long Time Traveler”) and some pop music. The first movement begins like an exercise on speed (and I don’t mean velocity), but with inserted melodies in octaves that invoke the Stravinsky of the Rite. The song-like “Aria/Procession” that follows is absolute delight, as is the staccato of bassoonist Javier Rodriguez; the third movement “Folk Song” is like an outgrowth of that, just more lachrymose. Both players’ phrasing exudes the utmost tenderness. There is something markedly pastoral about the finale, “Dance Song.”

Colin Clarke

"Cellist Hannah Addario-Berry is clearly an adventuresome spirit"

Another thoughtful review for Hannah Addario-Berry's Scordatura!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

SCORDATURA • Hannah Addario-Berry (vc) • AEROCADE 004 (77:09)

KODÁLY Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8. B. MILLER Miniatures, Book 3: Koans. A. ROSE Lands End. E. CLARK Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV. JUSTEN Sonaquifer. COONS Myth’s Daughter. LIU Calor

This disc marks the first chapter of an ongoing project that couples Kodály’s 1915 Sonata for Solo Cello with contemporary works. The six other works here are all directly inspired by Kodály’s masterpiece and were all written for the present cellist.

San Francisco Bay Area-based Canadian cellist Hannah Addario-Berry is clearly an adventuresome spirit, and this is a most enlightened way to hear an established masterpiece in a new light. The title of the disc, Scordatura, refers to the practice of deliberately altering the tuning on a stringed instrument (as Kodály does here). The cello in this piece has the two lower strings lowered by a half-step, which in itself offers a whole shedload of new harmonics to the instrument. Addario-Berry’s idea is to create a repertoire of music for scordatura cello.

The Kodály comes up against quite come competition, including Queyras on Harmonia Mundi (Fanfare 26:1) and the fine, ever-impassioned Alban Gerhardt on Oehms Classics (the latter a sensible coupling with a Bach unaccompanied Cello Suite and one by Britten.) Yet Addario-Berry holds her own in this huge, nearly 40-minute piece, her plangent tone in the first movement highly effective. Her tuning, too, is impeccable, even in those testing, ultra-high passages. But it is in the desperate loneliness of the Adagio (con gran espressione) that Addario-Berry triumphs; the spread pizzicatos over a pedal bass carry huge emotional weight. The finale has huge energy, and there is a feeling of manic dance over some of the higher-pitched sections.

All of the remaining pieces on the disc are World Premieres. It is the scoring of Brent Miller’s 2015 piece “Koans” from Miniatures, Book 3 that intrigues and entices: it is for cello, voice and dice. Unfortunately, the role of the dice is not explored in the booklet note, but we do hear them being thrown at one point so one assumes they determine something about the performance; but we do get to hear some text from The Gateless Gate, a collection of koans compiled by the 13th century Chinese Zen master Wumen Huikai. Addario-Berry’s voice is deliberately slightly recessed at the opening, but turn her up at your peril, as the entrance of the cello is mightily close. Miller’s writing is terrifically expressive, with some gorgeous glissando harmonics; but there are some grating dissonances there, too.

For Lands End (2015), composer Alisa Rose took the topography of a section of the trail from San Francisco’s Lands End Trail that leaves from the city and crosses cliffs, descending down to a rocky beach. The technique is therefore presumably analogous to that used by Villa-Lobos on mountain contours to develop material for his music (try that composer’s Symphony No. 6, “On the Outline of Mountains in Brazil.”) The use of old fiddle bowing techniques by Rose is aurally obvious and works well in highlighting the resonant feel of the tuning used; the rhythms provide the impression of optimistic forward movement.

Eric Kenneth Malcom Clark has composed a series of pieces under the umbrella title of Layerings, each of which asks the soloist to record material several times (including singing), with the inevitable small differences resulting in overlappings. The composer also asks for miniature clothes pins on the strings in this piece, Ekpyrotic (2015); the result is something like a gamelan. Interestingly, the piece Sonaquifer by Gloria Justen of 2015 calls forth memories of the composer of earlier music, including Bach, Bartók and, topically, Kodály. The playful nature of the musical lines is perfectly caught by Addario-Berry, and the piece flows magnificently with a sort of artless grace (the composer actually refers to it as a “flowing, turning dance”.) It would be a perfect encore.

Scored for “cello and projected video,” Myth’s Daughter (2015) by Lisa Renée Coons has Addario-Berry reading fragments from Grimm Fairy Tales. Both www.lisacoons.com and YouTube will furnish the video, which concentrates on the innocence of a child. In performance terms, this is a tour de force, always entertaining; Addario-Berry’s rich, expressive tone tells its own story in conjunction with the text.  Finally, Jerry Liu’s Calor (2015), an adventuresome piece that examines the concept of heat (“calor” is Latin for heat) in terms of flickering flames, smoulderings and “fiery momentum.” The score includes some measures without meter to give some level of freedom to the performer. The close recording only emphasizes the (pardon the incoming pun) scorching intensity of of the performance.

The disc can be further explored (and purchased) at https://hannahab.bandcamp.com. There also is a fascinating recorded interview with Addario-Berry around this disc at http://www.soundnotion.tv/2016/05/soundnotion-233/. A very varied recital. Well worth investigating.  Colin Clarke

Pheromone: "wide-ranging in style and timbre, extraordinarily inventive, often wildly entertaining, and not for a minute dull"

Another great review for Meerenai Shim's Pheromone!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

PHEROMONE • Meerenai Shim (fl); 1Jacob Abela (pn) • AEROCADE 001 (44:01)

FIELDSTEEL Fractus III: Aerophoneme. G. C. BROWN Huge Blank Canvas Neck Tattoo. O’HALLORAN 1Pencilled Wings. LAUSTSEN 60.8%. SCHANKLER 1Pheromone. M. J. PAYNE Étude for Contrabass Flute and TI83+ Calculator

As is often true of new music in the classical sphere this program is eclectic and owes as much to jazz, folk, and popular music, as it does to any tradition handed down through the concert and recital hall. All pieces are commissions, except the Eli Fieldsteel work, made by San Jose-based flutist Meerenai Shim for this first release on her new indie classical label, Aerocade Music. The music is all electroacoustic, with instruments ranging from the standard C flute to the behemoth contrabass two octaves lower. The electronic accompaniment is provided by a number of sources: fixed media, real-time audio synthesis using SuperCollider, Ableton Live, and Max/MSP, and the output from a Texas Instruments graphing calculator running sequencing software. (Who knew?) To those who do not follow electronic music, this may all sound like gobbledygook. Bottom line is that the electronics provide an orchestral palette of sounds, almost infinitely malleable, and capable of either responding within preset parameters to what the performer is doing, or creating a rich setting to which the performer can respond.

Received concepts of electronic music don’t apply. Expression of human emotions is very much the purpose, and it is in this that Shim, pianist Jacob Abela, and the various composers have excelled. Fieldsteel’s Fractus III: Aerophoneme, whatever the method used to achieve it, is a dramatic unfolding of cooperation, conflict, hope, and eventual dissolution with the electronics as the often menacing rival. Gregory C. Brown’s Huge Blank Canvas Neck Tattoo for alto flute and digital delay reflects on personal setbacks and triumphs in the composer’s life. In it, statements made by the soloist become the background—often enhanced—for future discourse. Emma O’Halloran uses a “tape” track and piano duo to accompany—and sometimes overwhelm—the flute’s fantasy flights in her Pencilled Wings. Douglas Laustsen’s 60.8% for bass flute and electronics ponders the devastating impact of unemployment on the youth of Greece since the imposition of austerity, using, as an inspiration, rebetiko, a once disreputable style of 20th-century Greek urban folk protest music. Schankler’s Pheromone deals, logically enough, with attraction and bonding, and Matthew Joseph Payne’s quirky Etude for contrabass flute and TI83+ calculator is, with its combination of low-res early video-game-like sounds and the mellow contrabass flute, two minutes of unadulterated nerdy delight.

Shim is an amazingly dexterous flutist, and works brilliantly with her electronics and her live keyboard collaborator. The sound is close, in the manner of popular music recordings, but it is appropriate to the music. Notes are minimal and hard to read in the type chosen, but are expanded to usefulness online at meerenai.com/pheromone. One small complaint: If Shim was offering “original cover” LP reissues at a few dollars a disc, I would say nothing about a timing of 44 minutes. But a new mid-price disc that is little more than half-full feels like short measure. Otherwise, that which is offered is wide-ranging in style and timbre, extraordinarily inventive, often wildly entertaining, and not for a minute dull. Pheromone is therefore warmly recommended to anyone who wants to explore some of the more accessible frontiers of new music and the alt.classical fringes of the flute repertoire. Ronald E. Grames

Scordatura: an "excellently sequenced and performed disc"

Another excellent review for Hannah Addario-Berry's Scordatura!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

SCORDATURA • Hannah Addario-Berry (vc) • AEROCADE 004 (77:09)

KODÁLY Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8. B. MILLER Miniatures, Book 3: Koans. A. ROSE Lands End. E. CLARK Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV. JUSTEN Sonaquifer. COONS Myth’s Daughter. LIU Calor

The fourth release on the recently founded Aerocade label takes a page from ECM’s book in that it presents a historical dialogue between Zoltan Kodaly and a group of contemporary composers reacting to his sonata for solo cello, whose centenary was in 2015. If not directly influenced by Kodály, the same scordatura (altering the tuning of a stringed instrument) is used by the other composers. Cellist Hannah Addario-Berry performs the Kodaly sonata first and then the other sets of pieces, creating a well-formed and evocative program. While her rendering of the sonata faces stiff competition, Addario-Berry makes an especially fine contribution with the middle movement; she clearly identifies with its wildly diverse mystery and multilayered pathos, beautifully shaping each phrase and perfectly timing each silence. I was especially impressed with the passages that combine arco and pizzicato, as she manages a real sense of interaction.

“The great way is gateless, approached in a thousand ways,” intones the cellist, commencing Brent Miller’s excellent and equally diverse third book of miniatures, and this pithy aphorism perfectly encapsulates both the preceding sonata and the rest of the disc.  As with Varèse’ America transforming into “Ameriques,” the notions of area, landscape, temporal experience and chronology are deconstructed, or maybe it’s better to say reconstructed. On the geographical plain, we have Alisa Rose’s “Land’s End,” which uses reminiscences of American tunes and physical proportions to transmit the experience of walking the Land’s End trail in San Francisco. In more metaphysical territory is Gloria Justen’s “Sonaquifer – Flowing, Turning Dance,” a study in what might be called collective memory, combining elements of baroque figuration with the brief syncopations of Kodály over a rapidly changing often post-romantic harmonic background.

These are not the direct and hyperconscious interpolations, say, of Holger Czukay; they are subtle, often ephemeral and difficult to remember on first listen. Even when we know the source immediately, as in Lisa Renée Coons’ “Myth’s Daughter,” context is both paramount and elusive. Addario-Berry negotiates the various and often thorny terrain with ease, both as vocalist and cellist. In the end, the Kodály is exposed as the trans-geographical, dialectical and micro-historical document it is, thanks to an excellently sequenced and performed disc. Marc Medwin

I Care if You Listen reviews Beneath a canopy of angels…a river of stars

We always appreciate it when our releases get such thoughtful and through reviews. Thank you Don Clark and I Care if You Listen!

"Mesmerizing, ear bending, lyrical, and engaging, Beneath a canopy of angels… a River of Stars is a stellar recording debut for Post-Haste Reed Duo and essential listening for those interested in contemporary chamber music." - Don Clark, I Care if You Listen

Read the rest at I Care if You Listen!

"Would that all new music and its performances were this tight and this serious!"

A well-deserved review for Post-Haste Reed Duo and their composers!

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

BENEATH A CANOPY OF ANGELS…A RIVER OF STARS •  Post-Haste Reed Duo  •  AEROCADE AM002 (50:12)

HUTCHINSON BioMechanics. ANDRIESSEN Lacrimosa. WICKMAN Confluences. SAMMONS Some Thoughts About Time. STEINMETZ Songs and Dances

The second release from the recently founded Aerocade label is, if it’s possible, even more diverse than the first. This is partly due to the wonderful sounds set down by the Post-Haste Reed Duo—hereafter PHRD—and partly to the disc’s broader chronological scope.

There is something beautifully anachronistic about the oldest piece on offer, “Lacrimosa,” one of Louis Andriessen’s sumptuous 1991 pieces that I absolutely refuse to label as “minimal!” This version was commissioned by PHRD for alto saxophone and bassoon, and while I have only heard the work in various transcriptions, this reading provides a layer of timbral intrigue, moving the performance beyond the admittedly absorbing but coloristically limiting microtones. A whole other world of sound and image is evoked with each gesture. It is a perfect precursor to Ethan Wickman’s 2014 score “Confluences,” for the same instrumentation. The first and third movements bear some slight resemblance to, or at least spring from the same soil as, Stravinsky’s “Symphonies of Wind Instruments,” with its jump-cut transitions and asymmetrical and unexpected motivic returns. As nearly a century has passed, those techniques are seamlessly incorporated into a piece that also employs spatial, canonical and contrapuntal devices but always with just a bit of cheek, the sardonic wit of the “modern” composer just below the surface of what might otherwise be construed as just another take on the fast-slow-fast form the Italians laid down around three hundred years ago.

The two works I’ve discussed make no use of electronics, but rest assured, that most ubiquitous of “modern” concerns is present, and nowhere more so than in the brief movement that opens this reading of Lanier Sammons’ “Some Thoughts about Time,” where a single pitch is slowly rent, electronically, into shifting components until an octave is formed. This is not necessarily the first movement, as the piece is reconfigurable, but it makes a powerful opening to an interdisciplinary work dealing with the temporal. There’s also the rapid-fire tritons, often with whimsically antique electrobeats in the back, of Simon Hutchinson’s 2011 “BioMechanics,” a wonderfully provocative disc opener. Hutchinson may very well be a King Crimson fan, as some of the rhythms and interlocking devil’s intervals are reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s Crimson iterations.

At the heart of everything is the superb playing of Sean Fredenburg and Javier Rodriguez.  These pieces wouldn’t have worked nearly as well as they do with lesser-equipped instrumentalists. Would that all new music and its performances were this tight and this serious!

Marc Medwin

Fanfare Magazine reviews Scordatura

This article originally appeared in Issue 40:2 (Nov/Dec 2016) of Fanfare Magazine.

SCORDATURA • Hannah Addario-Berry (vc) • AEROCADE 004 (77:09)

KODÁLY Sonata for Solo Cello, op. 8. B. MILLER Miniatures, Book 3: Koans. A. ROSE Lands End. E. CLARK Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV. JUSTEN Sonaquifer. COONS Myth’s Daughter. LIU Calor

Canadian cellist Hannah Addario-Berry, now working in the San Francisco area, has put together a stunning program for the solo cello, celebrating the centennial of Zoltán Kodály’s milestone Cello Sonata, op. 8. Scordatura, the title of the release, denotes the retuning of a stringed instrument to change its character and tonality. Kodály requires, in his sonata, the G- and C-strings to be tuned a half-step lower, so that the open strings sound a B-Minor seventh chord. This facilitates the shifting B Minor/B Major tonality of the work—including the use of open-string drones—increases the resonance in those keys, and emphasizes the darker timbres of the instrument. Inspired by these qualities, Addario-Berry commissioned 10 friends—“dynamic young composers”—to create new works for the identically tuned solo cello, to be performed with the Kodály. Working on a short timeline, six finished the works in time for inclusion here and in ongoing tours. Composing to complement one of the greatest works for any solo instrument was no doubt daunting. All wisely avoided producing works that invite direct comparison, opting instead for contrasting, occasionally very modern, works.

Listeners familiar with János Starker’s final recording of the Kodály Sonata (1970, Delos) and the first recording by Miklós Perényi (Hungaroton), another Kodály protégé, will find Addario-Berry’s approach quite different. It is more improvisatory in approach, more monumental—her term in promotional material—and considerably more measured, running, at 34:50, a full four minutes longer than either. The soloist doesn’t slight the Hungarian folk qualities, and maybe even enhances them, while making much of the expressive opportunities that a slower tempo affords, so that the sonata, especially the central Adagio, takes on the nature of a dark lamentation. It is not out of character, even if it perhaps goes beyond what the composer envisioned. The arpeggiated chord work in the Allegro molto vivace, which Starker objected to and cut in all but his last recording, is here made intensely effective, and other figures, which go by very quickly at the marked tempo, are allowed to more fully register at Addario-Berry’s freer tempos. Of course, Kodály declared a Starker performance of the sonata just short of “the Bible performance” because of an unscored ritard in the third movement. Heaven knows what he would think of this reading, but I must say—despite my usual respect for composers’ preferences—that it is immensely satisfying.

Such is my enthusiasm for the Kodály, I’m afraid I’ve left little room for comment on the other six works. It is an eclectic lot in style, but all are essentially tonal. Possibly because she is good at it, two involve reading by the soloist, between and sometimes during the music. In Miniatures, Book Three: Koans, Brent Miller incorporates Zen meditation statements, on which the music reflects in the styles that evoke several of the composer’s influences: Ligeti, Schnittke, Crumb, Tenney, Xenakis, and Pärt. In Myth’s Daughter, Lisa Renée Coons lifts phrases from familiar Grimm’s fairytales nostalgically recalled from her youth, which the soloist states, whispers, and sings as a sort of enhanced narrative in time to the music. Alisa Rose finds inspiration in the topography of a San Francisco trail for the contours of Lands End, and in Appalachian fiddle bowing to establish its essential bluegrass personality. Gloria Justen’s vivacious Sonaquifer is more Eastern European, with gestures from the Bach Suites providing contrasting ideas. Rock music seems to be the starting point for Calor by cellist/composer Jerry Liu, as he experiments with indeterminacy by eliminating note values and meter.

Eric Kenneth Malcolm Clark’s Ekpyrotic: Layerings IV, is, however, the only truly experimental composition. He uses overlapping multiple takes of the same music to create musical complexity out of inevitable variations, as the soloist plays a prepared cello—miniature clothespins on the strings to create a bell-like ringing—and vocalizes. (I have only a vague sense of what this all might have to do with ekpurosis, or the ekpyrotic universe model.) This is a short four-minute version of the work. A longer version, at over 11 minutes, can be downloaded after purchase of the release.

Recommendation, then? Absolutely: The outstanding Kodály Sonata performance alone would be reason enough to purchase this CD. The new works add plenty of creative and agreeable music to be explored, and Addario-Berry’s performances rivet attention. The recording emphasizes the rich lower range of the cello, and is attractively clear and rather close in a resonant space. Notes are succinct, but are expanded upon at scordaturacello.com and a linked Bandcamp download page. Ronald E. Grames

Scordatura review in Examiner.com

Stephen Smoliar at examiner.com reviewed Hannah Addario-Berry's new album, Scordatura:

"Addario-Berry has mastered the art of getting every note to speak to the attentive listener. Her name may not be familiar to listeners who think that they have already decided on a favorite cellist, but the freshness of her approach to the Opus 8 sonata not only deserves but also demands attention from anyone interested in this piece."

Read the rest at examiner.com.

I watch the fire as the days echo away reviewed in Examiner.com

Stephen Smoliar reviewed the new Joseph M. Colombo/The Living Earth Show recording. Here's an excerpt:

"Colombo takes an interesting approach to the pacing of this narrative. “I watch the fire…” sustains its destructive energy for a little over seven minutes. However, the concluding movement takes less than three minutes, suggesting that one need only let go of the urgency of the present to acknowledge the inevitability of passing. The result is some highly persuasive rhetoric packed into an impressively short duration."

Read the rest at Examiner.com.

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review: Beneath A Canopy of Angels...A River of Stars

"...Post-Haste Reed Duo show us an admirable musical poeticism and a supreme command of their instruments for a very lively and absorbing program of where chamber music can be in our times. Highly recommended."

- Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

Read the whole review here.

Beneath a canopy of angels...a river of stars review in textura

Post-Haste Reed Duo's debut album is an honorable mention in the March 2016 edition of textura. The review:

"theirs is no novelty act; the music on the release holds up as an excellent collection of contemporary classical works by Louis Andriessen, Simon Hutchinson, Lanier Sammons, John Steinmetz, and Ethan Wickman, no matter the instrumentation involved."

"...what beneath a canopy of angels...a river of stars demonstrates above else is that whatever reservations one might have harboured regarding the limitations of a saxophone-and-bassoon pairing can be put aside, as Fredenburg and Rodriguez clearly show that music of limitless stylistic range and emotional scope is possible when such instrumentation is involved."

Read the rest at textura.org.