February 24, 2021

  • Ravello 2020 Releases Overview

    As the pandemic hit last year, CINEMUSICAL also took a bit of a break from reviewing music.  There were a couple reasons for this.  One was personal in that I decided to use the year to work on 2 musical theater projects as well as 2 solo piano albums.  It seemed like a good time to focus creative energy.  The second was related to trying to focus people on music old and new in a time that seemed a bit uncertain and where our attentions needed to be elsewhere.  Needless to say, there were a lot of albums, especially at the front end of quarantining that then sat gathering dust and motivation on my part.  To that I must apologize.  Over the past few months, sporadic reviews have appeared on CINEMUSICAL that were the result of direct contacts by composers or performers asking for a hearing.  Frequent readers have also noted that releases from Parma Recordings have gotten a fair hearing here as well, but these too went on the wait until a better day.  So to catch up a bit, the next few blog entries will do some overviews of releases that may have passed under the radar for any number of reasons.  Here we want to look at five released from the Ravello label.  There will be links here to get you to the website for each release to hear some of this great new music.

    Clickable: The Art of Persuasion (Ravello 8023)

    Released in January 2020, this is an interesting concept album from the duo of flautist Zara Lawler and marimba performer Paul Fadoul.  The fourteen tracks is a sample of their concert approaches that include audience participation (including the final track's "Common Thread" and an exploration of the way we are coerced into decisions whether it is through a "Jingle Without Words" or the description of a novel ("Sense and Sensibility"; "Liars"; "Power Money Fame Sex") and other media interactions.  A blend of styles from the avantgarde and perhaps third stream jazz influences make this a fascinating experience of performance art that brings into artistic light commercialism of our time.  (Check out audio at: https://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8023.)

    First Light (Ravello 8031)

    Jackson Greenberg is an LA-based composer with scores for film and television.  In the work which this release takes its title from, we get a sample of his ambient blends of electronics with static orchestral writing with slow-moving shifts in washes of sound across a 16-minute orchestral tone poem of sorts.  The music is along a trance-like meditative vibe.  Interesting the work is comprised of segments that are prerecorded and then manipulated electronically in this hybrid of acoustic and computer-generated material which one might compare to an ethereal science fiction dream.  "The Panther" is an equally haunting work with interesting solo work and string clusters that swirl around a recessed recitation of Rilke's poem.  It is a truly fascinating, if brief, release giving his music more exposure.  (https://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8031)

    Mirrored Glass (Ravello 8027)

    An exploration of minimalist piano music finds its expression on marimba in the equally mesmerizing work of Taktus (Greg Harrison and Jonny Smith).  The release is split into two equal halves that explores two composers of this musical aesthetic.  First are four transcriptions from Ann Southam's Glass Houses.  Certainly it is a brighter style that invites the listener into the often dreamy textures and loops.  There is some electronic manipulation here too with some processing that allows some extending of the sustaining of pitches--similar to a piano pedal.  The duo also performs Southam's Rivers 1.  The second half of the album come from Philip Glass's Etudes and Music in Contrary Motion.  The music is a bit darker and moodier for this second half as the duo continuos to explore the range and sonic quality of the instrument.  Both sets of works were also recorded in different locales which lends a distinct quality to the ambience of the recordings--though this is quite subtle.  (https://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8027)

    Anne Neikirk: Spring Shadows (Ravello 8028)

    Composer Anne Neikirk's collection of electronic solo music features a fascinating blend of solo instruments against here textural backdrops.  She manipulates the sounds of tenor saxophone ("Balloonman"), flute ("Flicker"), harp ("locoMotives"), and percussion ("Lung Ta") into often intriguing sounds that connect with aspects of each instrumental performance sounds.  The music takes its inspiration from poetry, the natural world, and the Tibetan Flag (in the final multi-movement "Lung Ta").  Each piece allows for different expressions and approaches to ambient writing with manipulation of acoustic material integrated well together.  The music is quite accessible and and there is a more intimate quality that comes through well in these works.  (https://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr8028).

    Autumn Winds (Ravello 8029)

    Released last February, Autumn Winds explores new art song styles integrating piano, and in the opening "Four Beautiful Songs" viola.  The cycle that lends the album its name is for piano and soprano (sung here by Ann Moss).  It is a series of haikus with various takes on the season of autumn.  A fascinating set of contemporary art song.  There are two instrumental works here as well.  The first is a meditative work for viola and piano, Prayer Stones.  Here the timbre of the solo instrument aids the reflective nature of the piece.  The album concludes with "Beautiful Nightmares" a serial work that creates some rather intense drama with moments of minimalist repetition also appearing.  An album worth checking out for those interested in developments of modern art song, but the two instrumental works are equally worth the price of admission.  (https://www.ravellorecords.com/catalog/rr802)

    While the above popcorn capsules are not as exhaustive as some of the reviews here, hopefully there is enough to encourage you all to check out the music that seems the most intriguing...though each are quite so!