ICE on CD | Bleader

Friday, June 3, 2011

ICE on CD

Posted By on 06.03.11 at 02:40 PM

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In my profile of International Contemporary Ensemble in this week's paper, I mentioned the slew of new recordings featuring the group, but I didn't have the space to do much more than list them. But their stylistic range and fiery technical excellence deserve to be expounded upon further.

Certainly the highest-profile offering is ICE's premiere recording of Son of Chamber Symphony by John Adams, a 2007 work composed for a ballet by choreographer Mark Morris. As Adams acknowledges in his liner notes, the composition is related to his 1992 Chamber Symphony, which itself took inspiration from Arnold Schoenberg's 1906 piece Chamber Symphony No. 1, op. 9. Last fall ICE made that connection palpable with an excellent program at the MCA called Roots and Return, performing both Schoenberg's piece and the newer Adams work.

The new piece features 16 musicians, and all of them get time in the fast-moving spotlight—the terse, jaunty motifs spread jump rapidly around the ensemble. As he does in many of his works, Adams uses a fast-slow-fast three-part structure, and ICE brings out the buoyant, pulsing counterpoint in his writing. The new CD on Nonesuch also features the debut recording of the composer's String Quartet by the St. Lawrence String Quartet, for whom it was written. I'm not generally a fan of Adams's music, but I've found this album pretty hard to resist.

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More challenging and more rewarding than the Adams disc is a new album featuring the work of the German composer Matthias Pintscher. ICE performed a program of his music at New York's Miller Theatre last October and within a day or two the superb Kairos label asked ICE to record some of the pieces, including Sonic Eclipse. On the first movement of that piece, trumpeter Gareth Flowers blows unpitched breaths through his instrument, a technique widely used in free improvisation these days (pioneered by folks like Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley). The first two parts of the composition, "Celestial Object I" and "Celestial Object II," are solo features, respectively, for Flowers and French horn player David Byrd-Marrow, and the third movement, "Occultation," superimposes elements from the first two parts—the "eclipse"—with passages both in sharp registration and general opposition. An earlier work called "A Twilight's Song" features soprano Marisol Montalvo singing the poem of the same name by E.E. Cummings (the Miller concert featured ICE soprano Tony Arnold, who performs at Saturday's MCA event), and a performance of the intense choral piece She-Cholat Ahavah Ani (Shir Ha-Shirim V) by SWT Vokalensemble Stuttgart rounds out the CD.

I think my favorite new ICE-related release, however, is The Bright and Hollow Sky (New Focus), a collection of pieces composed by Nathan Davis, the group's main percussionist—he's also one of the featured composers on Saturday's MCA program. Davis himself appears on only one of the five pieces, the opening "Like Sweet Bells Jangled," in which mournful, harmonically sour lines played by flutists Eric Lamb and Claire Chase and clarinetist Joshua Rubin are surrounded and at times replaced by constant resonant tintinnabulation—that is, metal percussion instruments being struck, bowed, and processed by ring modulation. There's also the stunning "pneApnea," a virtuoso showcase for Chase (it previously turned up on her New Focus album Aliento), and "The Mechanics of Escapement," a piece commissioned by the Concert Artist Guild and performed by toy-piano virtuoso Phyllis Chen.

Finally, in March New Focus released Shark in You, by duYun, a "pop" alter ego of Chinese composer Du Yun, who's also featured on Saturday. The music on this record is dominated by electronic beats and moody vocal melodies, with elements of everything from cabaret to techno to ambient music. She created most of the music by herself, though ICE cohorts like trumpeters Flowers and Peter Evans and guitarist Dan Lippel help out. The music here may seem far removed from ICE's usual terrain, but it's illustrative of how diverse the interests of each member tend to be.

Today's playlist:

Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (ECM)
No Age, Everything in Between (Sub Pop)
Geri Allen, Flying Toward the Sound (Motema)
Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys, Betweenwhile (Aum Fidelity)
Zaïnaba, Traditional Songs of Comorian Women (Buda)

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