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New From Innova Today: Six Albums

Today’s release of these six very different albums is evidence of why Innova, the recording arm of the American Composers Forum, is the finest New Music organization we have today.

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“Family, faith and human frailty. And all very personal. Neil Rolnick takes on some serious topics with this new CD. But as you’ll expect if you know his earlier work, he comes out of it with a polyglot mashup of music which moves from solemn beauty to manic dance, from memorable melodies to digital madness. In the title track, the string quartet ETHEL delivers a powerful rendering of a work chronicling Rolnick’s experiences with his family at the time of his mother’s death. In Faith, pianist and improviser Bob Gluck, with Rolnick on laptop, takes us through a high powered musical exploration of what it means to believe, or not. To round it out, Rolnick ends with MONO Prelude, a solo performance for spoken voice and laptop which chronicles his own experience of hearing loss. Better hear this now.

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Neil Rolnick

Since he moved to New York City in 2002, Neil Rolnick’s music has been receiving increasingly wide recognition and numerous performances both in the US and abroad. A pioneer in the use of computers in performance, beginning in the late 1970s, Rolnick has often included unexpected and unusual combinations of materials and media in his music.

Though much of Rolnick’s work has been in areas which connect music and technology, and is therefore considered in the realm of “experimental” music, his music has always been highly melodic and accessible. Whether working with electronic sounds, improvisation, or multimedia, his music has been characterized by critics as “sophisticated,” “hummable and engaging,” and as having “good senses of showmanship and humor.”

Rolnick teaches at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, where he was founding director of the iEAR Studios.

The album, Innova 782, CD at Innova $15, .mp3 at Amazon $8.99

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Graham Reynolds loves to explore narrative in his work. This tendency makes him a natural fit for the film, theater and dance work that form one of the cores to his composing career. In fusing a loose concerto format with the story of Charles Babbage and his invention the difference engine, Reynolds’ composing voice finds itself in a work that is intense and driving, beautiful and intimate, personally expressive and broadly accessible all at the same time.

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Graham Reynolds

Developed over a course of years, the initial ideas for each movement were introduced and inspired separately before being woven into this one piece. The musical onslaught of the opening movement came to Reynolds during a lecture by LB Deyo on Babbage and his work, inspired by the ferocious pace of both Babbage’s thinking and the calculating speed of his invention. The fourth movement was developed in a very different form for the Rude Mechs play “The Method Gun”, now touring the country. The fifth movement started as a solo piano piece, an Austin Museum of Art commission, in response to the work of Sol Lewitt.

Reynolds joins other alt-classical voices in a 21st century approach that is no longer in rebellion against tonality and melody, nor desperate to prove their validity through focus on a “unique” extended technique, while folding 20th century ideas from clusters to modal harmonies to polyrhythms into a broad vocabulary.

The completed concerto The Difference Engine premiered on February 6th, 2010 with a 35-piece string orchestra in a Golden Hornet Project performance at Ballet Austin’s Austin Ventures Studio Theater. Soloists Leah Zeger on violin, Jonathan Dexter on cello, and the composer himself on piano fronted the debut, with parts written specifically for their skill set and personal voices. Those voices were then captured for this CD.

Not fully realized in his lifetime, the difference engine was the masterwork of 19th century inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage, an attempt to create the world’s first computer.

A remix of each movement forms the album’s second half with contributions from DJ Spooky, Octopus Project, Grammy-nominated producer Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma, Golden Hornet Project’s Peter Stopschinski, and finally one from the composer himself.

The album, Innova 790, the CD at Innova $15, the .mp3 at Amazon $8.99

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The Old Fred Ho (also known until 1988 as Fred Houn) died on August 4, 2006 of advanced colo-rectal cancer. His progeny, the New Fred Ho, born August 5, 2006, has taken up the mantle of his predecessor, including forming the incredible Green Monster Big Band, a gathering of Who’s Who of virtuosi-improvisers across the U.S.; continuing to lead the Afro Asian Music Ensemble; and imagining and producing fantastic new stage productions of manga-opera/martial-arts/music theater.

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FRED HO and the GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND’s second recording, YEAR OF THE TIGER, debuts on Innova. Year of the Tiger spans the “popular avant garde” palette of composer Ho’s fondness for television themes (here The Johnny Quest Theme), a medley tribute to the late Michael Jackson (Very, Very Baaad!, with a version of “Thriller” that has a Wachowski Brothers-Noam Chomsky tongue-in-cheek spoof upon the late Vincent Price’s iconic oratorio), two fresh interpretations of Jimi Hendrix (“Fire” and “Purple Haze”), one of Ho’s boyhood idols, a new opus by Ho, Take the Zen Train, commissioned by Harvard University (Ho was awarded the 2009-2010 Harvard Arts Medal), along with a combined children and adult choir with Chinese instrumentation version of a martial arts-movie theme classic (Hero Among Heroes) and an excerpt from a new opera collaboration between Ho and librettist Ruth Margraff, Cleopatra and Anthony (an Afro-centric manga-opera).

Composer-baritone saxophone virtuoso FRED HO has assembled one of American music’s most extraordinary large ensembles, THE GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND, featuring a stellar assembly of musician-improvisers and a repertoire that encompasses vanguard extended works by Ho to his imaginative arrangements of Rock and Pop classics by Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Black Sabbath, Iron Butterfly, adding a powerful freshness and revolutionary excitement to the big band tradition from Ellington to Sun Ra. And if this combination wasn’t incredulous enough, Ho has added to the big band repertoire his personal childhood Television theme-song favorites (eg., The Spider-Man Theme or The Johnny Quest Theme)!

THE GREEN MONSTER BIG BAND features the greatest and most creative musicians of our era, some with considerable fame as jazz and improvised music veterans, such as Earl McIntyre, Jr. (bass trombone), Stanton Davis (trumpet), Bobby Zankel (alto saxophone); and others who are emerging as the new vanguard, including Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Amir ElSaffar (trumpet), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar); virtuoso dynamos as the triple-high C lead trumpeter Winston Byrd; highly individualized soloists such as Jim Hobbs (alto saxophone) and Salim Washington (tenor saxophone), the most incredible trombone section of Bob Pilkington, Marty Wehner, Richard Harper and David Harris, along with Earl McIntyre, Jr.; Wes Brown on bass and Art Hirahara on keyboard, comprising a special rhythm section who can groove as easily in complicated and convoluted odd-meters as most can in common time; and to top it off, revolutionary innovators who music history and most jazz journalism has been unable to catch up with, such as Dr. Hafez Modirzadeh (chromodal-tenor saxophone) and Dr. Royal Hartigan (Afro/Asian world music multiple percussion master).

FRED HO THE COMPOSER uniquely and incredibly traverses across genres with both ease and innovation, his compositions having been commissioned by and featured at some of the most prestigious artistic institutions of the U.S., including the American Composers Orchestra (When the Real Dragons Fly! at Carnegie Hall), the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (for Josephine Baker’s Angels from the Rainbow for the Imani Winds), the Guggenheim Museum and the Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival (for Journey Beyond the West: The New Adventures of Monkey and Voice of the Dragon: Once Upon a Time in Chinese America…), and most recently, Fanfare to Stop the Creeping Meatball! by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the 2011 Tanglewood Music Festival.

His works personify the cross-cultural hybridity of American New Music and Jazz. His six-octave range and fluency with extended and esoteric techniques on the baritone saxophone equals his prodigious abilities as a composer and creator of operas and other large-scale, epic works (including genres he has originated such as “Manga Music/Theater” and “Martial Arts Ballets” and “Living Comic Book Performance”).

Ho’s distinguished awards include two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships (in Jazz Composition and Opera/Musical-Theater), three New York Foundation for the Arts Music Composition fellowships, six Rockefeller Foundation awards, the Duke Ellington Distinguished Artist Lifetime Achievement Award, the Harvard Arts Medal, and the American Music Center’s Letter of Distinction.

At the end of 2008, having faced three bouts of advanced colo-rectal cancer, and the likelihood of imminent death, Ho assembled a group of his favorite musicians from his 30 year career as a one final hurrah to celebrate their friendship and mutual respect, and to make what Ho had believed was going to be his final recording.

FRED HO THE BARITONE SAXOPHONIST
in this recording demonstrates his virtuosity with a six-octave range on the low-A baritone saxophone and an indelible and unique sound and approach to that horn that establishes him as one of its greatest innovators and performers.

The album, Innova 789, the CD at Innova $15, the .mp3 album at Amazon $8.99

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The Ghazal is an Urdu poem of passion in all its myriad hues. In its heyday, the Ghazal, thanks to the pioneering work of luminaries such as Begum Akhtar and Roshanara Begum, rightfully claimed its place among the prime semi-classical genres of Hindustani (North Indian classical) vocal music. With the passage of time and the increasingly frenetic pace of the world around us, the Ghazal gradually acquired a new identity largely within the realm of popular music. kaise keh duuN is a welcome throwback to a golden but forgotten time, that transports you to a bygone world of leisurely beauty, of weaving melodies steeped in nuanced inflections in the classical traditions of North India.

In this debut album, Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan, Minneapolis, MN based performer, composer, teacher and scholar of Hindustani classical music, presents a rainbow of Ghazals that tunefully portray the delectably finessed poetry of some of the greatest names in Urdu Ghazal. Each musical composition owes the foundation of its tonal architecture to a principal Hindustani Raga (melodic template). Some of India’s premier instrumentalists on the Tabla, Sarangi and Harmonium, complement and complete the melodic palette with their brilliant accompaniment. This confluence of sublime verse and music speaks of unrequited love, of eternal longing, of love’s triumphs and failings and of a life that was, all the while alluding obtusely, to an incessant quest for the ultimate spirit.

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Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan

Pooja’s eminent musical Gurus, Vidushi Shanti Hiranand and Pandit Surendra Goswami, each contribute two musical compositions on this album while the remaining three compositions showcase Pooja’s own creative prowess. Recorded in Delhi, India, the music is entirely presented in its raw beauty, with no edits, additional effects or post-processing, retaining the feel of a live concert setting with its inherent dynamics.

In March 2006, The Hindu, one of India’s leading dailies, reviewing a star-studded, prominent Ghazal Festival in Delhi, India, commented “The young Pooja was certainly the star performer at this festival.” With this album Pooja, who is a versatile vocalist, with a wide-ranging repertoire that also includes Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan, Chaiti, Kajri and Hori among others, clearly makes her mark as one of the leading practitioners in the art of Ghazal singing in the almost forgotten classical style.

Artists:

Tabla: Pandit Sudhir Pande
Harmonium: Ustad Mahmood Dholpuri (Tracks 1, 3, 5, 7), Vinay Mishra (Tracks 2, 4, 6)
Sarangi: Murad Ali Khan
Tanpura: Sunil Goswami

The album, Innova 232, the CD $15 at Innova, the .mp3 album at Amazon $8.99

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A Different World, much like the marriage between Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, represents an organic amalgam of cultural traditions and musical styles. The collaboration of a classical violist and world percussionist captures disparate worlds merging. The musical styles on this ground breaking disc range from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz. The confluence is natural and unforced. A classically trained violist from Australia, Kathryn ignites the instrument with her passion – one minute embodying a gypsy violinist, the next a Middle Eastern reed flutist. Yousif, of Lebanese descent, manipulates sound by simply snapping his fingers at the edge of an Egyptian frame drum or dragging his foot across the Peruvian cajon. It’s evident that both members of the ensemble truly feel the essence of these genres. Kathryn studied Arab music, was coached by David Krakauer on the Klezmer style and by Derek Bermel on the music from Thrace. Yousif studied classical percussion throughout college and went on study and specialize in music from the Middle East, India, West Africa and Brazil.

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duoJalal

The compositions on A Different World evolved from various aspects of the musicians’ lives, through casual conversations over dinner and coincidental reunions in unexpected places. duoJalal met Brooklyn composer Kenji Bunch at a dinner party in Manhattan, Yousif ran into Philip Glass at a music festival in Telluride CO, Kathryn met John Patitucci at a chamber music concert in the neighboring town of Bronxville NY. With the exception of the Italian Mr. Rao Camemi (who Yousif met in NYC), all the composers are New York based and friends and colleagues of the duo. The result is a stunning testament to the vibrant multicultural fabric of the city of New York and to the artistry of duoJalal.

The percussion batterie includes Durbakeh, Djembe, Tar, Bendir, Cajon, Bodhran, Brooms, Wind Gong, Thai Gong, Tibetan Cymbals, Indian Bells, Finger Cymbals, Metal Shaker, Triangle, Caxixi, Goat Hoof Shaker, Bird Whistle, Maraca and Ocean Drum.

The album, Innova 793, the CD at Innova $15.00, .mp3 at Amazon $8.99

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The composing genius of Duke Ellington meets the ferocious energy of Jerry Lee Lewis meets the exploratory mind of Graham Reynolds in this album, with Gabriel Prokofiev, DJ Spooky, and others helping expand the vision. Seven songs done three completely different ways, one unified album.

For Graham, his Ellington show started as a don’t-think-about-it-too much, just-have-fun, one-time-only, take-a-break-from-composing side project. Then it was too much fun, and the audience too responsive, to let it rest there. Repeat performances saw the arrangements and ideas behind the music develop, the list of tunes narrow and focus, and the audiences grow. An album became an obvious next step.

As a composer-bandleader himself, Reynolds looks to Duke as a model, perhaps the definitive model, of a what a composer-bandleader can be and the heights that can be achieved. Straddling the territory between the “band” format where collectively rules, and the traditional “composer” model, with its top down system, Ellington create composed music that only his band and those specific players could ever fully execute as envisioned. Rather than attempting any sort of recreation, Graham recast the music for himself and the players he works with, especially the unique voices of drummer Jeremy Bruch on drums and violinist Leah Zeger.

The band portrait came first in the form of short but intensely high-energy shows with turn-it-to-11, in-your face brashness and a sustained driving rock pulse. Instead of the large ensembles Ellington favored, Graham chose a focused line-up up of drums, piano, sax, trombone, and bass. The size allows for a looseness that gives the players room to rip it up and explore their own ideas while still maintaining a tight unified front.

The string portrait came next with Graham stepping further from Ellington’s vision, creating something truly his own from tiny fragments of the originals in the classical tradition of theme and variation. Developed in the studio rather than live in clubs, these pieces show Reynolds’ more intimate side.

Finally came the remix portrait, where Graham turned over the recordings from the band and string portraits to seven remixers to cast the pieces in their own voice: Okkerville River’s Justin Sherburn, DJ Spooky, Gabriel Prokofiev (grandson of the great Russian composer), Golden Hornet Project’s Peter Stopschinski, grammy-nominated producer Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma, and finally Reynolds himself.

Graham looks for collaborators in all his work, whether it has been musicians in his ensembles, or directors and choreographers in his film, theater, and dance work. In Duke Ellington, Reynolds has found a new type of collaborator and an incredible source of inspiration. DUKE! is his tribute to and sonic portrait of one of history’s greatest composer-bandleaders.

The album, Innova 791 CD at Innova $15, the .mp3 album at Amazon $8.99

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