What do you get when you combine the microtonality of Ligeti and Feldman, the atonality of Stockhausen, and the improvisational impetus of Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith and Muhal Richard Abrams? Composer Scott Rosenberg provides a clear answer with Creative Orchestra Music, Chicago 2001 , a challenging album of new music.
While precedents exist for this kind of work, most notably Braxton's Creative Orchestra Music 1976 and selections by the Globe Unity Orchestra, Rosenberg demonstrates a willingness to forego the jazz tradition, placing improvisation within a completely new musical context.
"Tehr" opens up with a microtonal swell that brings to mind the works of Ligeti and Tuur; the improvisational elements for this piece apparently vary from performance to performance in terms of what instrument improvises and in what context; this makes it almost impossible to differentiate between the scored and improvised segments, although alto saxophone, trumpet and at one cacophonous point, the entire string section, have their moments of spontaneity.
"Wash," with its more cinematic feel, contains no improvisation. The string section builds tension with a gradually ascending line that, as the liner notes suggest, would be appropriate as a soundtrack for a taut thriller.
The rest of the album continues with an approach that merges the power of a twenty-six piece ensemble with the delicacy of small subsets within the pieces. While most of the instruments are easily discernable, there are times when sounds occur that seem other-worldly, as in "7x with Sttm." While things sometimes digress into anarchy, the pieces, for the most part, have an inner logic and construction that wraps around the improvisational elements and give them a strong sense of cohesion.
The ensemble itself is made up primarily of up-and-coming Chicago musicians, whose collectively resume includes work with Ken Vandermark, Anthony Braxton, Jeff Parker, and Cecil Taylor. Some of the artists have backgrounds rooted in avant-style groups; others with chamber ensembles; what makes this ensemble work best is the incredible diversity of influences and styles that each member brings to the table.
Creative Orchestra Music, Chicago 2001 is an impressive release which shows how well contemporary classical music can be married with improvisation; Scott Rosenberg demonstrates an ability to merge divergent styles into a focused effort that challenges these styles, while at the same time remaining reverential.
Track Listing: Tehr (2000); Wash (1995); 7x (1997); with Sttm (2001); Forgetting Song (1997); Toys (1996).
Personnel: Lisa Goethe-McGinn (flute), Kyle Bruckman (oboe), Matt Bauder, Jesse Gilbert, Paul Hartsaw, Laurie Lee Moses, Todd Munnik, Aram Shelton (reeds), Todd Margasak, Nathaniel Walcott (trumpets), Jeb Bishop, Nick Broste (trombones), Megan Tiedt (tuba), Carol Genetti (voice), Nathaniel Braddock, John Shiurba (guitars), Jen Paulson (viola), Chris Hoffman, Drew Morgan (violoncellos), Kyle Hernandez, Elizabeth Kennedy, Jason Roebke (contrabasses), Steve Butters, Jerome Bryerton, Tim Daisy (percussion), Jim Baker (piano, synthesizer), Scott Rosenberg (composer, conductor)