Our long, slow goodbye to beloved composer Jóhann Jóhannsson continues with the unveiling of Clarice Jensen‘s debut album; opener “bc” was composed together. As the artistic director of ACME (American Contemporary Music Ensemble), Jensen worked with Jóhannsson over the last decade of his life. What was meant to be a triumphant collaboration is now iced by a sheen of sadness, all the more poignant in relief. “bc” concentrates on the shifting dynamics of repetition, specifically “a two-octave c-major scale and a three-chord loop.” The piece recalls Jóhannsson’s Virðulegu Forsetar in its seeming simplicity and immense power. It’s possible to read into these shifts something about the nature of memory and remembrance; the echoes serve as unintentional metaphors for the lingering aspects of an influential life.
It’s encouraging to hear the rest of the set and to realize that while the presence of Jóhannsson may be seen as a selling point, the talent of Jensen is its staying power. It’s remarkable that Jensen has never recorded an album before now. Her multi-tracked cello grants her the scope of a small ensemble, and her harmonic intuition is impeccable. The remaining tracks – one composed by Michael Harrison and the other (in two parts) by Jensen – are evidence of a performer on top of her game. Harrison’s “Cello Constellations” required twenty-five additional cellos and sine waves, all performed by Jensen. The plucks operate as twinkles, the harmonic clusters as the constellations of the title. Undulating tones produce an underlying drone, reflecting the music of the spheres. In the final three minutes, all the parts come together; the stars are aligned.
The title track launches in contrast: again the drone, a flower visited by urgent melodies that hover, advance and retreat like hummingbirds. Field recordings from Grand Central Terminal are threaded throughout, and those familiar with the commuters’ mecca may find in these tones a reflection of the staggered bustle. (For a quick visual impression, check this time lapse video, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal.) Jensen is engaged in visual work herself, and this composition was initially part of a live audio-visual work itself, as seen below in Jensen’s collaboration with Jonathan Turner. These less frantic images are a better match for the longer “(b)” segment of the composition, which takes its time to establish and build on a mood. But in its calm we also find the heart of the composer. This is where she wins us over: in the deep contemplative aspects of “(b)” we encounter the thread that links her to composers past while serving as a potential influence to composers yet to come. (Richard Allen)