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Michael Daugherty: American Byways

Daugherty / Lamb
Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Equilibrium   Catalog #: 112   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Michael Daugherty
Performer:  Tess Remy-schumacherHong ZhuBen DavisMichael Jones,   ... 
Conductor:  Brian Lamb
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University Of Central Oklahoma Wind SymphonyUniversity Of Central Oklahoma Chamber Collegium
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DAUGHERTY Firecracker. 1,2,19 Regrets Only. 3 Rosa Parks Boulevard. 1,4 Walk the Walk. 5.6 Blue Like an Orange. 1,10 Diamonds in the Rough. 7,8 Bizarro 1,9 1 Brian Lamb, cond; Read more class="SUPER12">2 Kadee Bramlett (ob); 3 Hong Zhu (vn); 3 Tess Remy-Schumacher (vc); 3 Ben Davis (pn); 4 Jeff Kidwell (tbn); 4 Kent Kidwell (tbn); 4 Wayne Clark (tbn); 5 Jared Cathey (bar sax); 6 Nick Steward (perc); 5 Tommy Goddard (perc); 7 Yida Hu (vn); 7 Michael Jones (va); 9 University of Central Oklahoma Wind S & 10 C Collegium EQUILIBRIUM 112 (75:26)

Michael Daugherty, the liner notes tell us, has won a Grammy and is one of the most commissioned, performed, and recorded composers “in the American music scene today. His music is rich with cultural allusions and bears the stamp of classic modernism, with colliding tonalities and blocks of sound”—none of which sounds very appealing, actually, but as they say, the proof is in the listening, and listening to Daugherty’s music is indeed a fascinating trip.

This disc, which is titled American Byways, begins with an extraordinary 14-minute oboe concerto titled Firecracker. The composer indicates that it was inspired by “the diabolically difficult etudes of Antonio Pasculli (1842-1924), perhaps the greatest oboe virtuoso of his day.” Kadee Bramlett, a superb oboist, is fully up to the challenge. A few octave-apart notes in B begin the piece, which then quickly evolves into rapidly coruscating triplets for the oboe, accompanied by odd notes from flute, piccolo, and what sounds like a bass clarinet. A tambourine is the only percussion instrument one hears as the music whirls like a pinwheel, changing key and taking off into rapidly rising chromatic scales. A few modal flourishes introduce the second section, which consists mostly of falling and rising chromatic 16ths. Eventually the music slows down and the texture thins out until just the oboe is heard; other light percussion, such as triangle and woodblocks, add commentary. This middle section is the “simplest” and least dense in the piece; eventually the swirling triplets return and we follow that musical pinwheel through various changes to the end.

Regrets Only, commissioned by Music From Angel Fire, is a piano trio which Daugherty claims is “reminiscent of French salon music,” but to be honest it is an ultra-modern work with very little of the French romantic style about it. True, there is a gentle melody employed after the brusque opening, but the underlying harmonies have anything but “French salon style” about them. If anything, the music sounds to me as if expressing the angst that completely disrupted the fabric of the world and the arts in 1914-18. This does not make it uninteresting, however, merely different from the way the composer views it. Indeed, the gentle melodic structure breaks up, parts of it being played by sparse piano chords in the right hand while permutations of it are given to the solo cello. One of the more interesting aspects of this piece is that it is scarcely a piano trio in the conventional sense; rather, the instruments break up and recombine themselves (piano-violin vs. cello, piano-cello vs. violin, or violin-cello with piano commentary) in a way that reminded me more of an orchestral piece greatly reduced in orchestration.

Rosa Parks Boulevard is, of course, dedicated to the woman who took the challenge to defy local law and sit at the front of a bus in 1955, thus helping to spark the Civil Rights Movement. Daugherty had the opportunity to meet Parks and attend a church service with her in 1999. The music is partly influenced, he says, by a piece from James Weldon Johnson describing a preacher whose rhythmic intonation of the sermon resembled nothing so much as a trombone, and partly by Parks’s favorite spiritual, Oh Freedom , snippets of which are used here. Trombones in widely spaced intervals start the piece, which eventually becomes quite busy, even frantic; interestingly, some of the slower middle section reminded me of some of those “trombone summit” type recordings made in the 1950s and ’60s by J.J. Johnson, Kai Winding, Urbie Green, and others, but this mood is disrupted by booming timpani in quadruple time, which leads to an oddly disquieting passage for soft woodwinds, swirling downwards in rapid triplets, eventually landing in a sea of woodblocks. There seemed to me to be a much more militant (or military) feeling about this piece than one of finding peace—perhaps a preacher’s sermon of fire and brimstone rather than the joys of heaven—despite further quiet passages for solo oboe, then alto sax and clarinets, before we return to those dominant trombones.

We then completely switch gears for Walk the Walk, a piece dedicated to pianist Joe Hunter and the Funk Brothers, “Detroit studio musicians who played on all of the historic Motown releases from 1959 to 1972.” Not surprisingly, the music includes references to “Motown music,” including blues and Latin motifs as well as a fragment of My Girl . Written for baritone sax and percussion, the texture is actually sparser than the ones you may have heard on those old Motown releases, and to be honest the playing of Jared Cathey is far more virtuosic and less accessible than Motown pop music, but that’s all right because the music is actually much richer and complex, which makes it more interesting to me. Moreover, because of the sparseness of texture, one is able to enjoy the contrapuntal percussion effects much more than if it had emulated the sometimes-congested sound texture one heard on those old 45s and LPs. Rock, funk, and even Latin beats are generally alluded to rather than stated outright, and they continually change and morph. I also found it amusing that, at one point, Daugherty has the baritone sax play way up in the alto range! The My Girl reference is just a fragment, really, and deconstructed in such a way that again adds interest to the overall piece.

Blue Like an Orange is an orchestral piece expressing “many shades of the blues: melancholy, spiritual, satirical, brooding, humorous.” (Daugherty states that the piece follows “the traditional four-bar phrase structure of the blues,” but of course this is really just one cell; he doesn’t tell us if he based it on the traditional 12-bar structure or the less conventional 16-bar structure such as that of Careless Love Blues .) Whatever its motivation, if one did not know going into the listening experience one would never guess that the blues were even thought of, let alone the basis of the work, as the music is primarily mysterious and richly textured, using its brief melodic fragments in various guises, including a section played in hocket style by piccolo, trumpet, and trombone. A richly textured brass and percussion explosion follows, then oddly metered counterpoint played by bass trombone, trombone, and clarinet over light percussion. Chimes and high, sighing violins then lead one into an entirely different mood, one of pensiveness and lament, but again sounding to me nothing like the blues. But it does sound to me like an orange!

Diamond in the Rough was written to honor the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birthday, and was played on that date (January 27, 2006) by musicians from the Houston Symphony. Violin and viola playing almost in square-dance style begin the piece over percussion, followed by a high violin passage with a viola and percussion undercurrent. An almost minimalist rhythm is set up, which then doubles, as roughly bowed violin passages alternate with the glockenspiel. A subtle reference to Papageno’s tune is heard from “different angles.” Crystal glasses (a glass harmonica?) are heard in the second movement, over which a high, whining violin plays eerily. This commemorates the exact moment at which Mozart died. This then morphs into an undercurrent of viola triplets with the glockenspiel and violin playing over it before the glasses return. In the final movement, “Wig Dance,” Daugherty tries to capture Mozart as an “avid partygoer” who once said that he preferred dancing to music.

Bizarro, Daugherty states, was inspired by a “foe of Superman: Bizarro (created by Lex Luthor’s duplicating ray) is an imperfect copy of Superman.” Well, I see the resemblance, but as one whose brother was an avid Superman reader until age 14, I can assure you that the “Bizarro World” just existed; Luthor never created it or them (ref: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bizarro_World). Nevertheless, taken on its own merits, it’s a quirkily humorous piece with plenty of offbeat brass figures and rhythmic quirks. Come to think of it, most of Daugherty’s music could be construed as “Bizarro” in the sense that it skews musical expectations, not in a perverse or mean-spirited way, just because it does. This is a strange work that closes a strange but fascinating CD. The University of Central Oklahoma forces, both the Wind Symphony and the Chamber Collegium, under Brian Lamb’s direction, play extremely well with great enthusiasm and fine style. Recommended to all those who revel in modern music but want something of substance.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Rosa Parks Boulevard by Michael Daugherty
Conductor:  Brian Lamb
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University Of Central Oklahoma Wind Symphony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001; USA 
Blue Like an Orange by Michael Daugherty
Conductor:  Brian Lamb
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University Of Central Oklahoma Chamber Collegium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1987; USA 
Bizarro by Michael Daugherty
Conductor:  Brian Lamb
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University Of Central Oklahoma Wind Symphony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991-1993; USA 
Firecracker by Michael Daugherty
Conductor:  Brian Lamb
Orchestra/Ensemble:  University Of Central Oklahoma Chamber Collegium
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1991; United States 
Regrets Only by Michael Daugherty
Performer:  Tess Remy-schumacher (Cello), Hong Zhu (Violin), Ben Davis (Piano)
Written: 2006 
Diamond in the Rough by Michael Daugherty
Performer:  Michael Jones (Viola), Yida Hu (Violin), Nick Steward (Percussion)
Written: 2006 
Walk the Walk by Michael Daugherty
Performer:  Jared Cathey (Baritone Saxophone), Nick Steward (Percussion), Tommy Goddard (Trumpet)
Written: 2005 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Daugherty just got another fan November 28, 2013 By Denise C. See All My Reviews "I thoroughly enjoyed this CD. It's not often one disc offers so much variety. The Rosa Parks soloists are outstanding, and the ensemble performances are very strong. This eclectic CD is a great addition to any library." Report Abuse
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