This spring, a disproportionate amount of the finest albums are found in the field of Modern Composition. The emotions of a full pandemic year are reflected in an array of approaches, from solo piano to small ensemble to full orchestra. The subjects may vary ~ autism, climate change, human rights, even ghosts ~ but the tones can be applied to a variety of situations as well, demonstrating the flexibility of instrumental music. Some of these are soundtracks, and many of the others could be, under the right conditions. After listening to these albums, we realize that they have one thing in common: at the end, we’re uplifted. And that’s exactly what we need right now. We hope you enjoy our preview of the season’s slate of releases in Modern Composition!
Rich’s Pick: Bryce Dessner, Australian String Quartet, Sydney Dance Company ~ Impermanence/Disintegration (37d03d, April 2)
This season, there are at least five albums that could easily fill this spot, but the honor goes to this extraordinary multi-media release. Initially informed by the Australian wildfires, these pieces then went into lockdown along with their composers, performers and dancers. Reemerging in 2021, the reassembled company offers a skein of hope atop a stein of tragedy.
Ivory Adorned and Unadorned
Pandemic or no pandemic, the 88th day of the year is still March 29 ~ Piano Day! Many artists and labels are releasing piano music three days earlier on the “normal” release date of Friday, March 26. Moderna Records will be celebrating throughout the month by releasing Splices, a series of nine pieces from various artists, followed by the label debut of pianist Stefán Hafsteinsson on the EP Heima (also the title of a Sigur Rós movie). The label is also prepping a new Pêtr Aleksänder album, prefaced by the single Remains of the Day (also a movie title)! The most obvious Piano Day title is 88 Keys, from Akira Kosemura. Recorded during lockdown, the album and its videos reflect the quietude of deserted cities and comfortable homes (Schole/1631 Recordings). The season’s most relaxing album is Rosey Chan‘s Sonic Apothecary, backed by neuroscience and specifically designed to enhance sleep during a time of stress.
Piano Day continues as Simone Dinnerstein plays the works of Richard Danielpour on An American Mosaic, honoring those who have lost their lives from COVID-19, as well as the health care workers, caretakers, teachers and community leaders who have provided hope (Supertrain Records). Nokturn offers an EP that befits his name; Dark sees the light of day that same Friday, preceded by the single stargazing. Brian Crosby invites listeners to slow their pace; Imbrium is calm and unhurried, personalized by sound of the piano’s inner mechanisms (March 26). And as cold weather fades in the Northern Hemisphere, winter approaches in Cameron Bower‘s native Australia. Iceberg offers a tender blend of piano and soft, sweet adornment (Made Now Music, March 26).
Sun Chung’s Red Hook Records (no relation to the American hip-hop label of the same name) launches on April 16 with a fond farewell to the beloved jazz pianist Masabumi Kikuchi. Hanamichi – The Final Studio Recording was recorded in December 2013. After this, the label will unveil releases from Wadada Leo Smith, Andrew Cyrille and Qasim Naqvi. Scott Wollschleger & Karl Larson offer a series of avant piano pieces on Dark Days, reflecting the current climate through pensive and yearning works (New Focus, April 23).
Lorenzo Masotto‘s i=r is inspired by Snell’s Law of refraction, reflected in both sound and art. A variably sunny day seems the perfect time to investigate the set (Whitelabrecs, April 20). Roll the Dice’s Malcolm Pardon goes solo on Hello Death, which is thankfully warmer than its title. Little trace of the club climate remains (The New Black, April 16). Tom Blankenberg‘s Et is patient and contemplative, an antidote to the rapid pace of a spinning society (April 16). Iceland’s Eydís Evensen signed to new Sony imprint XXIM earlier this year; her debut single Brotin (“Broken”) is the first sample of an album due this spring. Voices 2 is Max Richter‘s follow-up to last year’s Voices, and continues in the same vein, combining new works with reimaginings of pieces from the parent album (Sony, April 9, pictured above right).
Piano is joined by a rotating host of instruments on Andrzej Pietrewicz‘ #4, a colorful suite with cover art to match. The EP, which culminates in a choral track, is out March 31. Chrystal Für (Christopher Vibberts) teams with Echo Collective on “I’ll Rise At Dawn Once More,” as wind sweeps across the wide open spaces of Elusion. (What Are We, May 28). A feeling of isolation is coupled with a love for the great outdoors on The Eye of Time‘s Acoustic II, as piano and strings hold an intimate forest rendezvous (Denovali, March 26). On the same day, Denovali celebrates the happy return of Origamibiro, whose membership has tightened but whose sound remains lush and immersive. Miscellany incorporates viola da gamba, glockenspiel, singing bowls and more, brightening the mood and uplifting the spirit.
The discovery of the season is Berlin’s Justina Jaruševičiūtė, whose Silhouettes may have been inspired by the works of other composers, but who possesses a voice uniquely her own. This string quartet album arrives drenched in both intellect and emotion, a rare feat (piano and coffee records, March 26). The label will follow this with Didacte‘s Revinir, a tender, piano-led suite about remembering ~ and returning to ~ our truest selves (April 2). Sarah Neufeld is already having a great year. On March 19, Bell Orchestre released House Music on Erased Tapes; on May 14, her solo effort Detritus is set for release on Paper Bag Records. The violinist is joined by multiple collaborators, and adds her own wordless vocals to a soothing, sparkling set.
A pair of Simons offer music of intense value this season. Violinist Simon Goff has worked with many of the field’s luminaries, and steps out on his own with Vale, introduced by the percussive “I Filled My Lungs With the Necessary Air, and Yelled!”, a post-rock title with a modern composition tone (7K!, April 23). And Simon Leoza (formerly known as Tambour) is already making waves with the heart-wrenching video for “La nuée,” the first single from the upcoming Albatross. The rest of the album is just as good (Rosemarie Records, April 30).
If you’re looking for a brand new score, Nainita Desai‘s The Reason I Jump is the one to beat this season. The often-ebullient music provides energy to an uplifting film about the autistic spectrum (Mercury KX, April 19). Apparat‘s Soundtracks is receiving the box set treatment as the four film scores, first released last year, are gathered together in physical form. The previously-reviewed Dämonen is the best, but Capri-Revolution, Stay Still and Equals Sessions are worthy accompaniments (Mute, April 16). Clark has recorded soundtracks before, but Playground in a Lake is a standalone work. The concept album tackles climate change through the lens of the last person on earth, and slides comfortably from modern composition to electronics to ambience. Guest stars include Oliver Coates, Yair Elazar Glotman and Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor (Deutsche Grammophon, March 26).
“Anxiety Mist” is downright stunning. The first video (above) from Matt Emery‘s Spotlight Series: Cello reproduces the feeling of running down a hill so fast that the only way to stop is to fall. Ironically, the piece was recorded in his parents’ kitchen! The EP’s theme is “a samurai warrior headed into battle.” Each entry will showcase a different instrument (Injazero, April 9). Christine Ott‘s Time to Die begins with the Rutger Hauer “Tears in Rain” monologue from Bladerunner, recreated by Casey Brown. The album goes on to explore the relationship between the living and the dead through a multitude of instruments, producing a feeling as blue as its cover (Gizeh, April 9). Orange and Mountains‘s full-length debut Drawers tackles the theme of dreams “during and after sleep.” Violin and electronics join forces, like the conscious and subconscious (Rhodium Publishing, April 16).
We hope we did not scare you with the cover art for Blutt. The music of cellist Patrick Belaga is more mood than fright, although it’s certainly out of the ordinary, as one might expect from the PAN label. Billed as “music for the unruly imagination,” the album is inspired by haunting memories of ancient civilizations, and sounds like a quiet phantasm (April 2). The title Music for Bosch People implies a horrific set, but trombonist Alex Paxton has subtlety in mind as well. The album mingles styles and timbres in a manner that reflects the painter’s turbulent art. In contrast, Tansy Davies offers the more bucolic Nature, presenting the works of four different composers. Both albums are set for release April 23 on NMC Recordings. Manchester Collective tackles music new and old (including Glass) on The Centre is Everywhere, a lively debut on Bedroom Community. The art looks like blood splatter, but the music sounds more like lifeblood (March 26).
Cellist Lavena tackles the work of various composers on In Your Hands, but the Björk-referencing closer my heart comes undone is the album’s finest moment (Bright Shiny Things, March 26). Trevor Exter has been quietly releasing a monthly trio of electronic cello suites, the third of which is due April 1. As the backdrops change, the cello continues to hold center stage. TRIOS 01 and 02 are already available, the first featuring a bit more jazz, the second a bit more synth. In Eynem is the debut set for cellist Francesca Ter-Berg, whose explorations in processed cello draw from the Yiddish and Sinti Manouche folk traditions. The EP continues to expand the tonal roster of Phantom Limb, formerly known for its more electronic releases (April 16).
Strings and Tins Recordings (great name!) offers the intriguing Stills 01, for which three composers were asked to create scores for paintings in the Tate Britain Gallery. Jim Stewart’s “The Dead Sea” is the beguiling entry point (April 19). Fresh on the heels of its 2020 series 10 Waltzes, the Bigo & Twigetti label returns with the evocative Consonance. Eight composers offer their takes on the word and sound (March 26). An astonishing 25 musicians share their talents on the 31-track Music for Self-Isolation, a pandemic project accompanied by a documentary, initiated by Frank Horvat and due April 9 on Centrediscs.
Masayoshi Fujita shifts focus from the vibraphone to the marimba on Bird Ambience, a quiet affair. Hatis Noit guest-stars on the title track (Erased Tapes, May 31). Kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté teams with the London Symphony Orchestra on Kôrôlén (Ancestral), a melding of eastern and western tones with a warm vibe and welcoming tone (World Circuit, April 23). Keeping the orchestra busy, jazz saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders resurfaces after ten years, bringing Floating Points along for the ride. Promises is due March 26 on Luaka Bop. Tenor sax is showcased on DF‘s Accretion, whose concert rendition includes a light show with projections. Let’s hope we get to see such things soon (Preserved Sound, March 26). Akropolis Reed Quintet addresses ghosts of all kinds, from organic to historic, on Ghost Light, a wide-ranging set sharing music from a wide host of composers (New Focus Recordings, April 9).