American music at its core is an art based on synthesis, influenced by the tonal language and formal construction of Europe, the sound sets and improvisatory nature of African music, and the rhythmic grooves from Central and South America. Each of the works on this program draws in various ways from those roots and each comprises a unique combination of styles that interact in often unpredictable ways. As brass instruments can be found in nearly every genre of American music, the Mirari Brass Quintet is an ideal vehicle to interpret and present these works. In addition, each of the composers featured here (save one) are from the Americas.
A whirlwind of virtuosic technique, John Cheetham’s A Brass Menagerie takes listeners on a sonic journey from conflict to resolution. Cheetham utilizes synthesis, borrowing concepts from many other prominent modern American composers in this work, including Bernstein, Copland, and Stravinsky, to create a fusion of musical ideas. Newly composed, but at once familiar, Enrique Crespo’s Suite Americana begins with a lighthearted and jovial rag before transitioning to a waltz with Peruvian flair (the only brief dip into South America on this program). Caprice Fox’s Silence of Time, written originally for the vocal jazz group New York Voices, possesses beautiful and languid harmonies that allow the group to display idiomatic lyricism, showing how brass instruments are essentially extensions of the voice. Mirari continues with another new composition by Georgia composer Louis Romanos, a percussionist from New Orleans (until uprooted by Hurricane Katrina) best known for writing for film, live dance, and the Louis Romanos Quartet. Romanos’s music features complex but hard-grooving rhythmic motives underlying an improvised growl trumpet solo. Finally, Eric Nathan’s Spires, the title track of Mirari’s debut album, is a tour-de-force of brass technique and pointillistic composition. The musical counterpart to artist Julie Mehretu’s ink and acrylic drawing of a set of overlaid architectural blueprints, the musical lines are blurred and obscured, rotated and transformed, before all pretense falls away in a moment of crystalline clarity.
The second half opens with Rich Campbell’s American Riffs, a set of infectious grooves drawn from the rhythms of 1970s funk. It continues by featuring tubist Stephanie Frye in a work by noted composer John Stevens. Hodesanna was written in memory of Jeff Hodapp, a tuba player and facilities manager of the University of Wisconsin school of music where Stevens taught. Another synthesis of styles, its five movements draw from bebop, waltz, tango, and the blues within contemporary classical forms. In a musical version of palate-cleansing sorbet, Mirari closes with a series of homages to American popular music, beginning with several songs from one of the most popular Broadway musicals of all time, West Side Story. Finally, Mirari presents two tunes by bassist Charles Mingus, both radically different takes on the blues. The first, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, is another elegy, written in memory of friend and saxophonist Lester Young, which features beautiful and soulful melodies played by the flugelhorns and horn. The other, Haitian Fight Song, is raucous and raw, with solos in tuba, trumpet, and trombone over a pad of collective improvisation that hearkens back to the earliest days of jazz.
Works to be performed on the “Music of Our Roots” program include:
John Cheetham, A Brass Menagerie
Enrique Crespo, Suite Americana
Caprice Fox, Silence of Time
Louis Romanos, TBA
Eric Nathan, Spires
Rich Campbell, American Riffs
John Stevens, Hodesanna
Leonard Bernstein, West Side Story Suite
Charles Mingus, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Haitian Fight Song