New From Innova: Four Albums

Innova is one of the finest producing companies in New Music.

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“A brilliant little overture, To the Point by 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Higdon opens this varied and intriguing new release by Philadelphia’s award-winning ensemble, Orchestra 2001. Included also are recent works by the indefatigable and incredibly versatile Gunther Schuller (Concerto da Camera with the composer conducting), violin concertos by Philadelphians Jay Reise (with soloist Maria Bachmann) and Andrew Rudin (with soloist Diane Monroe), and Romeo Cascarino’s haunting paraphrase of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Grass.” Artistic Director James Freeman conducts all but the Schuller.

Orchestra 2001 is one of America’s most important champions of new music. Through its concert series in Philadelphia and at Swarthmore College (where it is ensemble in residence), its previous recordings (for CRI, Albany, and Bridge Records), and its tours abroad (Russia, England, Denmark, Slovenia, and, most recently, the Salzburg Festival), Orchestra 2001 has brought new American music to countless fresh audiences. Its name pointed to the future when the ensemble was founded in 1988. With 22 years of landmark performances and recordings now behind it, the orchestra continues to provide a major focus for the best new music of our time. We think this disc – Orchestra 2001’s first with Innova Recordings – is one to be treasured, studied, and savored.”

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Harley Gaber does “harrowing yet peaceful” like no one else. His richly sonorous spectral drones sweep the soul along on its darkest night towards a dawn forever just beyond reach. His latest voyage, In Memoriam 2010, is a postscript or coda to the end of the world. Beginning with an apocalyptic tempest and (re)building from there, the album reveals shards of culture and humanity and finds a healing balm in enduring memory. It is an altogether fitting commemoration to the end of the world.

For Gaber, 2010 was a tumultuous year, and this album in memory of it traces his attempts to come to terms with it. The record feels at once like a grand exhalation and an indefatigable inhalation. As much as certain sections’ titles point towards an end (Cataclysm and Threnody, Threnody and Prayer) others point towards a re-creation of order after death (In-Formation, Coalescin). Commissioned by Dan Epstein of the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation in memory of his mother, Nancy Epstein, In Memoriam 2010 explores the flux between knowing and not-knowing that resolves itself into peace and tranquility.

Drawing on his 20 years of work as a visual artist in diverse mediums, Gaber constructs In Memoriam 2010 using collage techniques, drawing on fragments from composers including himself, Philip Blackburn, Kenneth Gaburo, Verdi, Beethoven, Werner Durand, Paul Paccione, and Morton Feldman. His ability to fuse these musical elements without diluting them speaks to his organic outlook on sound and musical discourse. Like his previous Innova release, I Saw My Mother Ascending Mount Fuji, In Memoriam 2010 is both harrowing and peaceful. A sense of loss may permeate these works, but it never obscures the overall sense of redemption and love.”

in memoriam 2010 (63:53):
1. cataclysm and threnody (16:01)
2. threnody and prayer (10:29)
3. ground of the great sympathy: aftermath (6:30)
4. in-formation (12:58)
5. coalescing (9:01)
6. …with completion (8:41)

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DEDICATION features music composed in celebration of the PRISM Quartet’s 20th anniversary by a slew of today’s top composers with a knack for the sax. PRISM has expanded the world of the sax quartet through their commissions and performances since 1984. Their dedication has paid off with this virtuosic showcase of instrumental acrobatics.

PRISM musicians have wielded their instruments in a variety of styles and contexts, and they’ve done it with a gleeful disregard for the various “-isms” of the day. The saxophone is a versatile family of instruments, capable of great subtlety and emotion, but also perfectly good at producing a wailing wall of noise. And while PRISM has done yeoman work in reminding people that old Adolphe Sax intended his inventions to be classical instruments first, the quartet also has the good taste and the tasty chops needed to reflect the sax’s great tradition in jazz and popular music.

This collection brings together almost two-dozen works written or arranged to mark PRISM’s anniversary, back in 2004. The composers come from near (Philly-based Matthew Levy, founding member of PRISM) and far (Donnacha Dennehy, a central figure on the Irish new music scene). They range from some of our most highly visible, award-winning figures (William Bolcom, Chen Yi, Jennifer Higdon, Libby Larsen) to emerging voices (Roshanne Etezady and Dennis DeSantis were both beginning their careers in 2004). And of course, there are friends of the ensemble like sax player Greg Osby, who adds his alto to the mix, and one-time PRISM member Tim Ries, who left the quartet some years ago to go on tour with a rock band. (Only time will tell if that band, apparently called “The Rolling Stones,” will have the staying power of the PRISM Quartet.)

From the frantic, florid playing required by Gregory Wanamaker’s speed metal organum blues to the melancholy of Renée Favand-See’s isolation, this set of birthday dedications offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of one of the essential contemporary music groups of our time.”

Roshanne Etezady: Inkling
Zack Browning: Howler Back
Tim Ries: Lu
Gregory Wanamaker: speed metal organum blues
Renee Favand-See: isolation
Libby Larsen: Wait a Minute
Nick Didkovsky: Talea, Stink Up! (PolyPrism 1 and 2)
Greg Osby: Prism #1
Donnacha Dennehy: Mild, Medium-Lasting, Artificial Happiness
Ken Ueno: July 23
Adam B. Silverman: Just a Minute, Chopin
William Bolcom: Scherzino
Matthew Levy: Three Miniatures
Jennifer Higdon: Bop
Dennis DeSantis: Hive Mind
Robert Capanna: Moment of Refraction
Keith Moore: OneTwenty
Jason Eckhardt: A Fractured Silence
Frank J. Oteri: Fair and Balanced?
Perry Goldstein: Out of Bounds
Tim Berne: Brokelyn
Chen Yi: Happy Birthday to PRISM
James Primosch: Straight Up

Timothy McAllister, Zachary Shemon, Matthew Levy, Taimur Sullivan, with Greg Osby

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Devotion, the opening track of Grant Cutler’s 2012, approaches you from what seems like a great distance, moving slowly across snowy Midwestern plains. It’s a fitting introduction to an album of cold, geologic beauty, a record not only inspired by the setting of its creation, but quite literally fashioned from artifacts unearthed from attics and closets and basements. Often, artists seek a universality in their work, but Cutler has crafted the timelessness at the heart of 2012 by documenting a moment, the first snowbound week of 2008 in Minneapolis.

He’d been reading about Zen meditation practice. He was learning about binaural beats. He’d just gotten a Roland JX-3P, a synthesizer from 1983. And so he spread his synths about the floor of the back room of his house and set about making drone tapes on his grandfather’s tape deck. The deck itself was rescued from his sister’s basement, and the no-name recorder didn’t even work properly half the time. It would eat the cassettes whole, and so every successful recording was a victory. Even then, playing the tape back to transfer it onto his computer would sometimes destroy the tape. Each of the performances here, then, is unique and unduplicatable.

The fragility of the process is in perfect harmony with the fragility of the music, which plumbs the beauty of the synthesizers’ sounds, pulling out tones that link 2012 to Tangerine Dream, to Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol 2, to Boards of Canada, and to Autechre. It’s a love letter to the soft, otherworldly fuzziness and cool, austere alienness of the analog synth. Its airiness and space let you follow tones and looping sequences through subtle shifts and changes, the sound coloring whatever space the listener is in, just as Cutler’s wonky tape deck colors the sound of the whole record. It’s the kind of album you want to curl up and take a nap inside of.

A warm blanket, a love letter, a document, a sonic painting of winter in Minnesota: 2012 is all of these things and also something more. It’s a mirror, a work that reveals the listener to him or herself, reflecting back on us ourselves in moments of peace, of focus, of solitude, of contemplation.”