CINEMUSICAL WEBSITE – 2/11/20 By Steven A. Kenney - www.sakennedymusic.com http://maestrosteve.xanga.com/2020/02/11/a-quintet-of-trios/ A Quintet of Trios Extant Blues is a collection of new music for piano trio by five California-based composers. The Trio Accento has chosen these works for their exploration of a common parallel to popular music styles filtered through the unique lenses of each of the composer’s represented here. There are three single-movement works that provide bookends for the two larger multi-movement works on the album. The opening piece, Polarized, has a repeated, asymmetrical ostinato pattern that helps unify the work as different contrasting sections provide intriguing rhythmic interest. The pattern itself has a samba-like pattern that helps give the work its energy. Rather fascinating is the way the work’s arc begins with the instruments in unison and then diverging outward into quite distinct, and often contrary explorations of the material. Kenneth Froelich’s work builds towards this extreme conflict and then pulls back to a unison conclusion providing a musical allegory for our current society, hence the title. In Gernot Wolfgang’s Jazz and Cocktails, he explores a musical party of sorts where different styles are referenced to depict intimate conversations with some of the great composers and performers of the 20th Century. Wolfgang’s use of extended harmonies makes for a striking backdrop to the way jazz and classical styles merge and move through different moods. It is at times like a third-stream jazz number of Shostakovich mixed with a little Grusin. There are also some sections that have an improvisatory feel. Many of the composer’s signature uses of jazz syncopations and styles also pop in this work as well. The first larger work is Juhi Bansal’s Wings. The concept of the work is one of flight and imagery that links this to other natural depictions. Interestingly, the opening movement has a construction that seems almost raga-like with its restricted pattern helping to create a sense of flight that twists and turns with moments of lyrical beauty for the primary strings. The piano adds harsher harmonic arrival points and enhances the drama of the music. A more rhythmic exploration is the focus of the interior movement. Here the three-note motive flits about somber lines adding to an intense dramatic conversation. The finale is more of a perpetual motion explosion of energy with voices that come together and then fly apart until they move to an almost impressionistic exhaustion of pentatonic flourishes and ambivalence. What is rather fascinating is that this tightly-constructed work maintains connections both motivic and thematic that are transformed across the movements and provide a host of things to listen to on repeated explorations of this work. Russell Steinberg’s Paleface found its inspiration in the pop art of Jerry Kearns who explores hero myths in the work chosen here (nicely reprinted in the booklet notes!). Each movement tackles one aspect of these American heroes beginning with the “Wild West” with its advanced contemporary techniques for piano to add special effects and folkish, Americana references (and a host of quotations in an Ives-ian approach). It is interesting to hear the piano shift from a classical to more saloon hall style too. The “Action Hero” is an exciting scherzo taking its inspiration from Hollywood and secret agent and superhero music. It even has a little surprise for listeners when kazoos appear. It is a more cerebral and intense section. The final movement, “Into the Night” is a contemplation of what a “hero” is in the shadow of historical events such as 9-11. The music references hymn-like music in a reflective opening that moves into touches of pop gospel before dying away, in a way, echoing the earlier 19th-century hymnody of the opening movement. With these various musical ideas, what really stands out is that one can approach this music with this sometimes humorous quality, but it as it plays out, there is an often darker, sardonic quality that makes the listener further reflect on these images and expectations of what these symbols really mean and how they impact the culture. The last piece on this striking program is a piano quartet by Jeff Beal. Almost Morning was commissioned for choreographer Claudia Schreier who premiered it in 2015 at the Alvin Ailey dance theater. It opens with a flurry of arpeggios that move across the ensemble with striking lyrical phrases that float above this forward motion. A nice syncopated section helps invite into a modern jazz style with Beal’s gorgeous melodic lines often soaring above these harmonic punctuations. In some ways, there are approaches here that parallel what one has heard in the Bansal and Wolfgang pieces which further makes this a fitting conclusion. The recording sounds great with a perfect imaging of the two solo instruments against the piano. The latter’s sound has good ambient capture which adds to the sense of presence. The clarity of the sound picture is also quite admirable. These are committed performances that really feel very natural in pieces that are essentially new. This lends to music a “comfortability” that eases the listener into these musical arguments well. Sequencing of the album creates a program that moves toward more intense musical expressions.
FANFARE MAGAZINE - @1/24/20 By Colin Clarke A welcome and vibrant disc exploring new music for piano trio and piano quartet. There are two spellings of Kenneth Froelich’s surname given in the documentation: “Froehlich” appears at the head of the booklet notes on his piece, Polarized. Born 1977 in Chester, PA, he is currently a Professor on the faculty of Fresno State University. He describes the piece presented here as a “study in contrasts”. It begins in scampering, virtuoso fashion which it turns out is but one element in a kaleidoscopic canvas. Minimalist procedures are applied to angular shapes, while there are nods to both samba and the Second Viennese School serialism. The musical surface demands a fine set of performers, its intent to map out the confusion and, indeed, polarization of the current political climate while at the same time acting as a plea for unity (reflected in the unisons at the beginning and end). Rather more poetic in inspiration, Juhi Bansal’s Wings is a depiction of a bird in flight through a rain-filled sky seen while the composer was in some mountain. Cast in three movements and lasting around 20 minutes, this is an extended piece, highly dramatic in the second movement’s depiction of a growing storm. The Trio Accento is supremely attuned to the rhythms here, sometimes shifting, sometimes pounding. Winds form the inspiration to the finale, where the music becomes even more descriptive. Again, there is a cleanliness to the performance that is most appealing. This is serious music, taken seriously. Currently on the faculty at Pasadena City College, Juhi Bansal is an Indian composer who was brought up in Hong Kong. I previously enjoyed her The Parting Glass on a Royen disc in Fanfare 42:2; I enjoyed Wings just as much. An imagined cocktail party is the inspiration for Gernot Wolfgang’s Jazz and Cocktails. This is not the only performance of this piece to be available via Albany: Walter Simmons reviewed (positively) a performance on an all-Wolfgang disc in Fanfare 32:1. The jazz references come through clearly, contained neatly within Wolfgang’s generally modernist aesthetic. Both Duke Ellington and Shostakovich are referenced, as are jazz pianist McCoy Tyner (associated with the John Coltrane Quartet) and Ravel. Quite a pot-pourri, but one that is expertly, slickly and, sometimes, profoundly managed. The idea of a dialogue between instruments, with various soliloquies well realized (Garik Terzian’s cello is particularly eloquent and ruminative). Both artwork (by “psychological pop” artist Jerry Kearns) and video (Carlton Bright) are elements of Russel Steinberg’s Paleface. The artwork is reproduced in the booklet. An exploration of the American hero myth, one might initially see correlations with the aesthetic of Michael Daugherty, but Steinberg’s music goes deeper while maintaining a descriptive surface. The idea of the American hero, posits the composer, operates on many levels of contemporary society. Even Jesus, not particularly American last time I looked (although who knows Trump might requisition him at some point) “plays a lurking role”. From galloping cowboys to folksongs and hymns, film noir and pulp fiction, Paleface explores them all. The three movements are: “Wild West”; “Action Hero”; “Into Night,” with the final movement exploring icons as ghosts. Steinberg uses extended piano techniques in “Wild West”: strumming of the strings, tapping the steel bars and so on. It all coheres beautifully; and it is fun, too. The central panel is a scherzo that includes a brief part for kazoo (the arrival of which comes as something of a surprise if you haven’t read the booklet notes in advance). It is all great fun, a depiction of superheroes, secret agents and cartoon chases. Easy to overlook the tightness of the performance then, superbly done here. The work ends with an Adagio, reflecting that depth I referred to earlier. Our superheroes are now, in the words of the composer, thrust “into the night of today’s post 9-11 world”. A gospel anthem surfaces, itself eventually transformed into a ghost. A fabulous work, way more profound than I first expected on reading the booklet notes. Finally, a piece for piano quartet by Jeff Beal, he of the House of Cards Symphony (reviewed by myself and several others in Fanfare 42:4). His Almost Morning refers to his favorite time of writing, pre-dawn; it also refers to an incident with his young son, who impatiently referred to the fact it was “almost morning: when waking a sleeping uncle. It is the perfect piece with which to end the disc, somewhat light (pardon the semi-intentional pun) and ever playful, even in its quiet moments. The Trio Accento is joined by violist Michael Chang for this beautifully bouncy offering. It was written for choreographer Claudia Schreier, and was premiered with a group of six dancers plus live musicians, but works perfectly as a stand-alone piece. All of this is caught in a bright, open recording with realistic perspective. A most refreshing release. Five stars: A welcome and vibrant disc exploring new music for piano trio and piano quartet
THE ART MUSIC LOUNGE – 1/31/20 By Lynn René Bayley https://artmusiclounge.wordpress.com/2020/01/31/trio-accentos-extant-blues/ California-based Trio Accento consists of violinist Limor Toren Immerman, cellist Garik Terzian and pianist Nora Chiang Wrobel. The CD booklet contains biographical information on each of them individually, but there is no information on how long they have been working as a unit. They do, however, tend to specialize in contemporary music, and this is the focus of this CD. We start off with Polarized by Kenneth Froelich. This is a piece in the modern “edgy” style, which kicks off with a flurry of notes by the two strings before settling into the obligatory ostinato rhythm of such music. The piano plays a repeated 7-note motif which underlies the high-flying playing of the strings, sometimes soft but always with edgy interjections. The music grabs your attention but sounds like a hundred other such compositions out there nowadays, though Trio Accento plays with vigor and commitment. There is the usual “reflective” passage in the middle where things quiet down for a bit, but without much of a theme to work with there isn’t much to say about the work other than its edginess. Next up is Juhi Bansal’s Wings. This, too, has a certain amount of the edgy style, but since it depicts birds flying it is generally quieter and has a certain amount of lyricism about it that I liked. Bansal also seems to be more concerned with thematic development than Froelich, which I appreciated. It is also a three-movement piece, each of them giving a different take on the subject. I found the second movement less structurally coherent than the first, however, and more concerned with effect. These must have been some pretty noisy birds! The third movement seems to allude to an entire flock, since the strings play together here, though the music seems more akin to minimalism, though after a while we do get some thematic development. Then we reach Gernot Wolfgang’s Jazz and Cocktails, and almost immediately one is aware of a first-rate musical mind at work. Although only alluding to jazz, we hear a tightly-woven composition in which the three instruments actually interact in a way that makes musical sense and is not so hung up on sound effects. The two strings play opposing lines above the syncopated but not quite jazz-like lines of the piano. At times, the cello plays pizzicato, and there is always something going on here that catches the ear and makes you pay attention. This is really a marvelous piece, and Trio Accento plays it very well, but I had to wonder about the title since the music has a slightly sinister sound throughout that doesn’t relate, in my mind, at least, to a “jazz and cocktails” sort of mood. (Perhaps a bit more like “jazz and hangovers”!) I particularly liked the passage with the rising chromatics which comes to a climax, then falls away as the two strings play together in harmony. By the mid-point, we are about as far away from jazz as one can imagine as the music descend to fairly sinister rumbles in the lower range of the piano before the energetic (but no less sinister-sounding) strings return. Eventually the music disintegrates into a series of quiet-yet-edgy phrases and outbursts by the soloists, either alone or together. Then, at about 9:51, the cello begins playing fast pizzicato passages, which the piano joins in atonal sprinkles. The tempo keeps coming to a standstill, then starts up again, until finally the whole trio jumps in to stop this nonsense and drive the music forward. A sudden outburst of bitonal notes hurtles it towards the conclusion. A strange piece! Russell Steinberg, a composer whose works Trio Accento has played in live concerto, contributes Paleface: Piano Trio (with kazoos), surely one of the strangest pieces on the album. The galloping of horses is simulated in the opening before the music hurtles into its theme-and-development sections; a bit of hoedown fiddle is heard, then Western barroom piano. The violin plays, very high and on the edge of the strings, a bit of Home on the Range, then, lower down in its range, Calling in the Sheep. I really enjoyed this piece tremendously, as it had not only energy but imagination and, yes, a sense of humor, all of which appealed to me. There’s not a dull moment in this opening movement; you feel completely engaged in the composer’s quick wit from start to finish. There’s even a passage where it almost sounds as if the violinist’s strings are snapping, calling for the player to make quick upward glissandi to simulate that effect. In the second movement we finally hear the kazoos, and even knowing they were coming they made me laugh. This movement features a fast, almost choppy ostinato beat propelled by the piano, but more importantly is Steinberg’s ever-quick wit and his ability to blend in elements of jazz (very well executed by the trio, by the way) and, despite all the odd effects (and kazoos), a good sense of development. No matter what Steinberg throws into this trio, no matter how incongruous the sounds produced, everything seems to fit like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, and always there is that strong sense of humor. Surprisingly, the third movement starts off with somber, slow chords on the piano, but the strings play weird tremolos that bob in and out of the music; then the pianist plays the inside strings of her instrument. This movement, for some reason, sounds much more serious and, unlike the other two, has more of a stop-and-go movement, yet one can tell that it’s by the same composer. Eventually, the violin plays a rather sad and plaintive “Western” sort of theme, joined later by the cello. The liner notes explain that the “Western” heroes of the first movement and the “pulp fiction” heroes of the second are, here, “struggling in the night to cohere and make sense of a world they no longer can possibly describe. They ultimately all go to church and fade away to a ghost gospel choir.” A weird piece! We conclude with Jeff Beal’s Almost Morning, a dance piece choreographed by Claudia Schreier for the Alvin Ailey dance theater in 2015, Beal, who started out as a jazz trumpeter, has moved into writing film and concert music. Almost Morning has the rhythmic element of minimalism, but the music really changes and develops and does not remain static. In this work, violist Michael Chang joins the trio to form a piano quartet. The rhythm is dance-like and even contains some elements of jazz without being “jazzy” in any really specific way. Lovely little melodies played by the violin come and go. At one point, the piano plays a quirky repeated rhythm in the right hand which pushes the three strings into a sort of slight protest, but all come together to continue the music, which has a very nice development section. All in all, a wonderful piece. A mixed bag, as is often the case nowadays. The Wolfgang piece was interesting, the Steinberg and Beal pieces were excellent, and the other two were striking but, to my ears, not musically effective.