Thursday, October 27, 2016

Album reviews: Bledsoe, Borkowski, Charke,

As my bio and recording credits will reveal, I am a bit of a "new music" junkie, and I love the thrill of stumbling upon a new album that not only reveals gorgeous playing, but introduces me to entirely new pieces I never knew existed.  As a reviewer for Flutist Quarterly, I am lucky enough to have those gems fall in my lap at times, and over the past couple of years, I think these three have been my favorite.  They are definitely all in regular rotation on my long drives from my house in Northern Colorado to my job at University of Wyoming, but I haven't heard too much about them in the outside world, so if you haven't already encountered these excellent projects, go find them (and pay for them, for heaven's sake)!  What follows are excerpts from my FQ reviews.

Ghost Icebreaker
Helen Bledsoe, flute; Alexey Lapin, piano
Leo Records, ©2014

It’s hard to believe that in all her years serving as an unofficial guide through the world of avant-garde flute performance, this is actually Ms. Bledsoe’s first solo CD. Together with pianist Alexey Lapin, she shares this collection of wonderfully dense, widely varied improvisations on simple themes: “Snow”, “White Oranges”, etc., as well as the eponymous “Ghost Icebreaker”.  Each piece is so tight between players, and so organic in development, that I actually had no idea these were improvisations until I read about the album on her blog.

Each tune is wonderfully evocative, transporting the listener to a new state of mind with each new track.  Bledsoe’s use of extended techniques is integrated so thoroughly with the music that nothing ever sounds like a parlor trick or a cheap stunt; every color and texture is necessary and meaningful.  And she uses a broad pallet, as one would expect from a flutist whose illustrious career has focused so dedicatedly to new music. Ghost Icebreaker displays Helen Bledsoe’s full range as a sound artist, and it is an impressive range indeed.


Jennifer Borkowski, flute and electronics
Composed
© 2015 Ravello Records

This album is a mix of original compositions, contemporary classics, and a couple of traditional works for solo flute. The inspiration for Borkowski’s original compositions was a change in scenery.  After living long-term in Vienna, she spent four years living along the shore in New England. The sounds of the ocean and the sense of wide-open space are clearly present in both pieces.  “The Calm Yet Constant Change Along the Shoreline”, for flute and electronics, is on a layered loop and delay electric guitar pedal. The acoustic flute line weaves in and out of this ambient atmosphere like the ebb and flow of the shoreline. “Still”, also for flute and electronics, evokes a similar style, with the electronic background on a six-second delay. 

Two pieces by Shirish Korde are also presented here.  Borkowski adapts his “Anusvara”, originally for bass and alto flute and electronics, to be played entirely on C flute. It is rendered beautifully and Borkowski’s version is a pleasure to hear. She also performs his classic “Tenderness of Cranes”, a tour de force for solo flute which employs a number of extended techniques to simulate the sound of the Japanese shakuhachi. 

It may seem strange to see Debussy’s “Syrinx” and Marais’ “Les Folies d’Espagne” existing side-by-side on the album with these particularly modern pieces, but it works.  Borkowski says of “Folies”: “…[it] is a moment when we climb out of the sea and sit solidly on a rock”. Similarly, “Syrinx” is reimagined as a watercolor painting in progress. So, these two staples for solo flute have now been incorporated neatly into the themes of space and water. 

Borkowski is a very thoughtful, deliberate performer on this album.  Even her programming is at once unique and very carefully considered. She displays grace, a beautiful sense of line, and utter control throughout this fascinating collection of pieces, and she most certainly achieves her stated aim to provide a “breath of fresh air”.

Kitchen Party
Derek Charke (flute) & Mark Adam (percussion)
©2014 Centrediscs

Flutist/composer Derek Charke and percussionist Mark Adam live in Nova Scotia.  The idea behind this “kitchen party”, as they explain it, is to create a version of the classic rural social event from this region, replacing a traditional folk music jam among friends with seven world premieres by local composers.  This recording is the result of that kitchen party, with 70 people gathered in a private home, enjoying food, wine, and an incredibly sophisticated three-hour concert. And the result is fantastic.

“Reel” Variations on a Jig, composed by Charke, starts out sounding a little like Jethro Tull, but quickly opens to a cornucopia of fantastic extended techniques, expertly performed and beautifully employed to expand the musician’s color palette, not just as circus tricks unto themselves.  The percussionist also joins in the fun, singing, whistling, and bringing the theme home as it metamorphosizes into a slightly funked-out version of the original. The other track written by Charke and Adam is a live improvisation off a simple melodic gesture that is masterful, free, and intoxicating.

Anthony Gege’s Third Duo for flute and marimba is based on an ostinato pattern in marimba with interjections from the flute, which then evolves into a fusion of the two parts and eventually a parting of ways again as the second half of the piece presents variations on the opening material.  Jeff Hennessy’s Balor’s Flute for bass flute and drum set has the duo playing in rhythmic unison for most of the piece, thereby offering up two pieces in a row in a quasi-minimalistic style.  Music for Amplified Bass Flute and Drum Set by Jim O’Leary has an improvisatory feel, as the bass flute explores a wide range of extended techniques and the drum set seems to follow the rise and fall of the flute’s line.

The remainder of the album includes a “textless poem” for flute and marimba, a digitally processed set of variations to create a dream-like effect, an homage to the old-school coffee percolator, and sample sounds from the audience for a true sense of atmosphere. If this sounds like a cerebral experiment more interesting to talk about then to listen to, it is not.  Within these very clever intellectual experiments, there lie truly creative, wonderful sounds played expertly by Charke and Adam. With so many unique compositional styles and some instrument changes, they are able to explore a very wide range of colors, textures, and expressions on Kitchen Party.


Nicole Riner ©2016

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