Tom Christensen: New York School (2005)
Art begets art. Tom Christensen composed the music for this record based on the work of a group of poets and painters from the fifties and sixties known as the New York School. Frank O'Hara wrote some of his poems inspired by the paintings of Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, and Grace Hartigan. In turn, some of their paintings were inspired by his poems. Christensen used not only these collaborations, but also a poem or painting as a reference point. And while inspiration is the take-off point, the trajectory of a work can be flat if an artist lacks imagination and creativity. Christensen shows beyond the pale of doubt that he is imbued with both as he molds this stunning piece of work.
If composition is the first reference point for excellence, the second is arrangement. Christensen leaves space enough for each player to invest his own stamp. They do so with remarkable intuition and feeling, which constitutes the third element of distinction.
Christensen and Walt Weiskopf are the votaries of the opening salvo on "Guardians," their lines initially in consonance, diverging, opening a space for the percussion of Satoshi Takeishi and the bass of Kermit Driscoll. Christensen sets off on his solo journey, his tenor tracing deep, looping lines and then getting into a straighter path, which he shards with short jabs. Weiskopf is more acute on the tenor, bringing in a sharper edge, and then billowing the lines with honks. The overall effect makes the tune tensile yet buoyant.
The texture is lighter but nonetheless compelling on "Your Strange Son." The atmosphere circles round chamber jazz, and the English horn played by Christensen enunciates the mood perfectly. There is a fluency that glows, the temper extended by Driscoll, whose bass sings, and Takeishi, whose drums accentuate the flow. There is an ethereal quality imbued into "In Memory of My Feelings," the spare hand drumming of Takeishi inveigling into the domain of the bass clarinet and the soprano sax, Weiskopf detailing spiraling lines on the latter before a softer tonality absorbs him and Christensen. But shade has many depths, and Takeishi rings in the percussion for some trenchant color. Christensen's use of instruments is undoubtedly another manifestation of his artistry.
This is an experience that will reside in the soul for a long, long time.
Track Listing: Guardians; Further Digressions; In Memory of My Feelings; Asleep and Sleeping With Them; Your Strange Son; Oranges; Little Elegy
Personnel: Tom Christensen-tenor and soprano saxophones, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute and wood flute; Walt Weiskopf-tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet; Kermit Driscoll-bass; Satoshi Takeishi-percussion