Epigrams are short, concise written works expressing a single thought or observation. Jessica Pavone adapted this concept to music by composing 27 short pieces for quartet (bassoon, English horn, cello, and viola); trio (marimba, Bb clarinet, and viola); and solo viola. The project spanned most of 2002 and reflected her changing moods and the textures of the seasons.
The quartet pieces were written during winter. Wrapped in solemn trappings, the product of Gil Selinger's cello and Pavone's viola establish a dense background for the double-reed woodwinds of bassoonist Susanne Chen and English horn player Michael Herbst. This series sustains a somewhat militant but promising scenario. Its somber offerings contain elements of hope, but they are clouded by more overt feelings of despair. The bassoon's mournful wails and the English horn's cry for light cast contrasting shadows against the wall of strings seeking solace from the cold.
Spring did indeed arrive with hope, reflected through Pavone's choice of instrumentation. Dancing vibrations from Dave Brandt's marimba at first would seem to contrast with the deeper tones of Jackson Moore's bass clarinet, but the merger of singing instruments quickly proves this a misconception. They join hands with Pavone and her viola in seeking the sunlight not present in the darker season. The trio segments are not exactly portrayed as light music, but a contrast with the gloomier season stands out.
Pavone composed the four solo pieces during the summer months. Oddly, they do not suggest fully the warmth of the season. Pavone becomes very expressive in relaying emotions, but a perception of the looming seasonal inevitability appears to pervade her thought process. Glimmers of glee peak through the clouds on certain of these solo cuts, but the expectations of summer do not match the certainty of the life cycle.
Pavone arranges the three group configurations of quartet, trio, and solo in somewhat random order on the disc. I found it quite interesting to rearrange the order chronologically to track her changing mood swings. She conveys the imagery of a flower transforming from seedling to full blossom with knowledge of its predictable fate.
The perfect complement to these compositions would be their evolution into extended improvisational sequences, but maybe that is what Pavone had in mind for a future project. Her epigrams are compellingly moving and stir deep feelings that range from despondency to lightheartedness, but the artistry of Pavone and the other musicians overflows in these ever-transforming sequences.
Art does imitate life, and the musical expressions of Pavone are a microcosm of life's reality.
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Personnel: Jessica Pavone-viola; Susanne Chen-bassoon; Michael Herbst-English Horn; Gil Selinger-cello;
Dave Brandt-marimba; Jackson Moore-Bb clarinet. Recorded: 2002, New York, NY.