Notes and Editorial Reviews
9 Little Improvisations.
For Clarinet Alone
Pat O’Keefe (cl);
INNOVA 785 (75:56)
Zeitgeist has been on the new-music scene for some 30 years and, while originally identified with the Minimalist movement, its impressively wide-ranging array of repertoire and commissions shows it moving far and wide in the intervening years. On this disc its members collaborate with Andrew Rindfleisch (b.1963) in five works that explore the continuum between predetermined, i.e., composed, music and improvised. Zeitgeist is an interestingly structured chamber ensemble of clarinet, piano, and two percussion, though four of the five works here make additions and subtractions to that basic lineup.
(2004) for clarinet doubling bass clarinet, piano, and two percussion is the closest to full predetermination, according to the CD notes by Stephen Dembski. Cast as a set of four tableaux evoking various nocturnal psychological states, the music very much sets up the clarinetist as the protagonist, the other instruments being supporters, persecutors, or commentators, in turn. After a startling opening, the first tableau careens between nightmarish anxiety and disintegration before opting for the latter. The next two movements,
are more benign, the spirit of George Crumb hovering nearby. The emotional tension drops, not to the pieces’ individual detriment, but one senses that these two movements are not wholly integrated into a unified piece with other two. The final movement returns to the dark world of the first. Not in “busyness”—in most of it the bass clarinet plays alone or sometimes ominously shadowed by quiet bass drum rolls—but certainly in the way that tension is created through the soloist’s line. It’s a studied demonstration of the maxim that less is more.
In the much earlier
(1992), Rindfleisch expands the Zeitgeist ensemble with the addition of alto doubling bass flute, violin, and cello. This is certainly the tersest, densest work on the disc and in some ways the most interesting. The composer says that “there are improvisational moments in
, but they’re really composed into it, a composed piece that breaks down notationally into improvisation at certain moments in the piece and is then composed out of the improvisation.” He goes on to explain that in some places he’s notated register and rhythm but not pitch, in others contour but not rhythm, and so on. The success of the piece is that, while one can guess which bits are predetermined and which are improvised, the joins are well managed and, to the extent that they are apparent at all, well, they are supposed to be. Of course, there’s a further dimension of freedom, or lack of, in that the listener must imagine that, preparing for the recording, there was a certain amount of conversation about just what the improvisation was going to be. As with all the pieces on this disc, the recording is close-miked so that the rustlings in the strings have a satisfying sort of Lachenmann-like presence.
For Clarinet Alone
(2009) is a solo for Pat O’Keefe, the Zeitgeist clarinetist. Marked
throughout, this recording takes close-miking to a new level. Five microphones were used, each on a different part of the instrument, and the composer was instrumental (pardon the pun) in mixing the recording. As Dembski says in the notes, “The dynamic indication results less in a decibel level than an attitude toward articulation and projection.” It’s an interesting exploration of amplified timbre. The music is clearly composed to provide material for investigation, so to speak—it’s full of long-held notes—but is sufficiently interesting to distract the ear from listening to the micro changes in tone revealed by the amplification.
O’Keefe is accompanied by the composer on piano for the
Nine Little Improvisations
(2009)—little bursts of improvisations, one as short as five seconds, some tuneful and eminently repeatable, others qualifying for the adjective “interesting” rather than “profound.” Rindfleisch joins Zeitgeist for
, a reassuringly familiar romp; even the title delivers, and when the composer shouts “I want my money back!” we know we are on familiar territory. It’s all good fun. It is clearly marked out into several sections, whose characters are broadly agreed beforehand; there’s even a prior-composed melody (at 6:17) sung by Rindfleisch, accompanied by bass clarinet. On the whole, it’s clear that the four players of Zeitgeist, hugely experienced at playing with each other, I am sure, provide a rock-solid quartet, intuitively bouncing ideas off each other, happily blending with the composer’s voice and bongo work, sometimes leading, sometimes responding.
The recording is close-miked throughout, the sounds of the clarinets and percussion particularly effectively caught.
was recorded in 2004, with a different pianist, and has a slightly veiled quality to the piano tone. I feel the balance prefers the clarinet, making the music often seem to be for clarinet plus some other instruments, a balance that probably isn’t quite fair. However, this is a small point. The performances are captivating and engrossing, particularly Pat O’Keefe’s clarinets, and the music is always engaging and interesting: direct and clear.
FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
Works on This Recording
Night Singing by Andrew Rindfleisch
Fanatical Dances by Andrew Rindfleisch
Period: 20th Century
Improvisation Situation by Andrew Rindfleisch
Andrew Rindfleisch ()
For Clarinet Alone by Andrew Rindfleisch
Patrick O'Keefe (Clarinet)
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