Fall Music Preview ~ Modern Composition

Our Fall Music Preview continues with a walk through the woods of Modern Composition.  From solo piano to orchestral works, this genre seems as ripe as an orchard apple.  New, distinct flavors are found in this year’s crop as well, which includes hints of theremin, vibraphone and the subtle notes of cross-genre splices.

Photography courtesy of Holly Holdredge Bangert at Holdredge Images.

Rich’s Pick #1:  Rachel Grimes ~ The Way Forth (Temporary Residence, November 1)
The Way Forth is an ambitious folk opera that weaves piano, strings, harp, narration, choir and folk melodies into a cross-generational history of Kentucky women.  By lifting the voices of these women into the spotlight, Rachel Grimes celebrates an oft-ignored part of Americana, and by extension, of women everywhere. We’re equally excited about the film and the score; this is an essential release.

Rich’s Pick #2:  Manu Delago ~ Circadian (One Little Indian, September 13)
Parasol Peak was one of our favorite albums of 2018, leading to even higher expectations for Circadian. To our delight, Manu Delago and his ensemble now offer another masterpiece, this one inspired by the cycles of sleep.  One might believe that Max Richter had said all that could be said about the subject, but this album takes a different path.  The subject may be sleep, but the colorful timbres produce a desire to stay awake.


The season’s most meditative work is Time Is Local, an abbreviated edition of a 12-hour museum installation.  We Like We & Jakob Kirkegaard were inspired by Roman deities, whose busts are visible in the video below (Sonic Pieces, September 27).  The label is also excited to be returning to their 7″ series with Christina Vantzou‘s thrilling diptych Six Cellos for Sol DeWitt, available the same day.  Carolina Eyck is a real outlier, as one can tell from the title of her latest album, Elegies for Theremin and Voice.  Here’s a great performance video, although the cello is not included on the album.  These lyric-free excursions will appeal to those who liked the Shards album (Butterscotch, September 27).  And Plïnkï Plønkï‘s Pangur Din is quiet, but fun ~ their last album included birthday songs written for people across the world, and the new album is about memory and nostalgia.  Field recordings add a feeling of warmth (piano and coffee, September 26).

Following an appearance on THESIS and his EP Dance, pianist Garreth Brooke returns to 1631 Recordings for a romantic venture.  Healing is a peaceful series of pieces composed to accompany artwork by his wife Anna Salzmann, and will be performed live with projection. The healing theme is apparent in the soothing nature of the work (October 25).  Also on 1631 is the self-titled piano and electronics album from OUTER (September 20).  Benny Gebert of HAERTS transported three pianos to his Hudson Valley farmhouse to record Triptych, and decided to leave the windows open to capture the local ambience.  The album is out September 13 on Arts & Crafts, preceded by the singles “Weeping Willows” and Night Life. One glance at The Thief Bunny Society is all one needs to understand its playful nature.  Per Störby Jutbring suggests listeners turn off their phones and run into the forest for peak enjoyment (Hoob, October 19).  We’ve waited a long time for new music from Christopher Tignor, and on the basis of the lead single “I, Autocorrelations,” A Light Below sounds like another stunner.  Love that cover art too (Western Vinyl, October 11)!


Ed Carlsen performs with a string quartet on Morning Hour, a gentle set of songs that start softly before they burst into bloom (Moderna, September 27). Pianist Shida Shahabi adds cello to her lovely EP Shifts, out November 8 on Fatcat/130701.  After a “greatest hits” of sorts, romantic pianist Bruno Bavota returns with the new Get Lost, whose title is more benign than it seems.  “San Junipero” is the highlight of this gorgeous album, appearing on Temporary Residence October 4.  Oliver Patrice Weder greatly expands his palette on OPW by adding multiple inflections to his soft, stripped down studio session (SA Recordings, November 1).  Strings sometimes steal the attention from the ivories on Jim Perkins‘ Pools, but the piano has the last word.  This emotional set is out October 3 on Bigo & Twigetti.


“Most of our songs have lyrics,” write acoustic bass/keys duo Bremer/McCoy, “even though they are instrumental.”  We like the sound of that!  The smiling jazz of Utopia betrays no clue that the duo was once a reggae act (Luaka Bop, October 18).  Laszlo Gardony adds jazz fragrances to the live solo piano of La Marseillaise (Sunnyside, October 25), while Mischa Blanos folds jazz and electronic influences into piano music on Indoors, due September 20 on InFiné.  The label will follow with Inland Versions, a collection of reworks from Vanessa Wagner‘s spring release, including contributions from GAS and Vladislav Delay (September 27).

We’re amused at the path Nils Frahm has taken to his upcoming album All Encores.  The composer began by releasing two EPs of music “that didn’t make the cut” of All Melody.  The first concentrated on piano, the second on ambience, and the upcoming third ~ Encores 3 ~ on percussion.  And now it’s going to be an album after all!  The third EP is due September 20, followed by the album on October 18, both released by Erased Tapes.  In between these releases, the label will highlight the cool Handfuls of Night, by Penguin Cafe.  We mean that word literally; the album is inspired by the arctic adventures of PC’s Arthur Jeffes, whose evocative compositions are meant to raise awareness of the endangered penguins he met while retracing Robert Scott’s famous expedition (October 4).  Switching poles, Christine Ott & Torsten Böttcher offer a new score to the classic film Nanook of the North.  Regular readers may recall a 2018 score on Denovali by a band sharing the name of the film; the inspiration may be the same, but the timbres are different (Gizeh, October 25).


Afenginn (Danish composer Kim Rafael Nyberg) has won multiple Album of the Year awards in his native land, and Klingra looks to continue the feat.  Half of the tracks are vocal, but a powerful string section elevates instrumentals such as “The Lighthouse” (Tutl / Cargo, October 11).  Rob Simonsen may have moved from film to audio, but he continues his cinematic association with a trio of enigmatic videos, beginning with Spectre.  Réveries is out September 6 on Sony Masterworks.  After a longer than usual absence, Slow Meadow returns with the heart-moving Happy Occident, continuing a perfect partnership with Hammock Music (October 18).  Berlin’s Lambert seems to have a gimmick ~ he performs in a Sardinian bull mask.  But given the popularity of TV show The Masked Singer, it may be more than that.  Vienna is inspired by lies, truth, post-truth, and the masks we wear (MKX, September 13).

Navona Records starts the season with two new releases.  Jeffrey Jacob‘s Dreamers was written after interviewing children of illegal immigrants, while Sirius Quartet‘s Playing on the Edge showcases pieces by composers Jennifer Castellano, Ian Erickson, Brian Field, Marga Richter, and Mari Tamaki (September 13).  Also forthcoming on Navona:  Mark John Mcencroe‘s Musical Images for Chamber Orchestra, a follow-up to his piano album of a similar name.  And clarinetist Andrea Cheeseman offers Somewhere, inspired by subjects as disparate as Odysseus and e.e. cummings (Ravello, September 27).

Violinist Haerim Elizabeth Lee is joined by Alex Brown on Gershwin’s piano for a tribute to the composer with works old, new, rearranged and improvised.  My Time Is Now is due September 27 on Innova Recordings.  Pauline Kim Harris reimagines works by Bach and Ockeghem on Heroine, folding electronic textures into violin bowls (Sono Luminus, September 27).  Violist Jessica Pavone returns with the J. Pavone String Ensemble for Brick and Mortar, adding a more dramatic tone than was possible alone (Birdwatcher Records, October 4). Michael Vincent Waller offers a series of short, minimalist pieces on Moments, a double LP that pairs piano and vibraphone (Unseen Worlds, October 4).  Synesthete Julian Loida displays his vibraphone skills on Wallflower; the rapid-fire movements of Silver Lacquer make an easy entry point (September 6).

NMC Recordings offers three releases on September 27.  Thanks to Plus-Minus Ensemble, Joanna Bailie‘s Artificial Environments is dark and alluring, a open-ended invitation to her work.  David Sawer‘s Rumpelstiltskin veers wildly between moods, as expected from the source material, originally commissioned for ballet.  New Music Biennial 2019 features startling combinations, including Gazelle Twin & Max Wardener and Forest Swords & Immix Ensemble ~ you’ll have to hear it to believe it!  New Amsterdam‘s slate begins with Bang On a Can alumnus Ashley Bathgate, performing six cello works composed by Sleeping Giant.  ASH is out September 27, and is followed by Nathan Schram‘s aggressive Oak & the Ghost, in which the violinist moves beyond modern composition to tackle avant rock (November 15).  Even more experimental is Mary Halvorson & John Dieterich‘s a tangle of stars, which incorporates jazz, pop and peacocks (October 25).  And Mario Diaz de Leon‘s Irradiance is much more than a cello album, delving into dissonance, sub-bass, and even noise, with guest performances by ICE and other luminaries (Denovali, September 27).

Richard Allen

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