William Roper: If I Ran the Circus (2005)
William Roper makes an auspicious launch of his Tomato Sage Consortium Records with If I Ran the Circus, a collection of solos and small ensembles composed by Roper and featuring improvisations by veterans of the EAR Unit, the Terry sisters, Alex Cline, and of course Roper himself, among others. The compositions reflect the tuba player's unique sense of whimsy, drama, and spatial relations.
Playing out like a suite, "Three Guys on a Hilltop... features Roper, EAR Unit's Dorothy Stone on flute, and Alex Cline on percussion. The piece belongs to Stone, whose impassioned flutistry holds dominant voice. After a tinker toy opening with Stone vocalizing and blowing, Cline creates solo thunder. Roper and Stone double a haunting theme that Stone beautifully explores a capella. Roper returns to once again argue the overlooked subtlety of fine tuba playing, resolving in duo with Stone. Cline rejoins to stir the pot to boil.
Roper solos on his "Images of Issey Miyake, an open and unhurried set of sonorous impressions. Symphonic orchestral veterans Lesa Terry on violin and Zela Terry on cello join Joseph Mitchell on glockenspiel for the emotional "Throttle-Up!-In Memorium 51-L. Both Terrys play with a warmth and urgency that make this rich track heart-wrenching.
Speaking of heart wrenching, Roper's "Poem for Emmett Till... revisits that epically ugly episode in American racism in which a black fourteen year-old Chicago boy was savagely beaten, tortured, and shot to death for talking to white woman on a visit to relatives in the south. Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick plays cello, vocalizes, and stomps the hi-hat cymbal, her cello slurring mournfully downward. Her screams and string slashes create an appropriately harrowing soundtrack. His softly spoken name and the ethereal harmonics ending the piece make for unforgettable listening.
The set ends with Roper sampling wind and wild animals for "Darkest Night... Joseph Mitchell joins Roper on hypnotic percussion as the tuba journeys through an animated soundscape.
Roper uses his label's debut to showcase the breadth of his compositional ambitions, erecting a big top full of wonders.
Track Listing: Three Guys on a Hilltop-The Ascension (If I Ran the Circus); Images of Issey Miyake; Throttle Up!-In Memorium 51-L; Poem for Emmett Till-A Freedom Song; Darkest Night- Balthazar Joins the Sacred Company.
Personnel: William Roper, tuba, voice, sona, keyboards, samples, singing bell, percussion; Dorothy Stone, flute, voice; Alex Cline, percussion; Lesa Terry, violin; Zela Terry, cello; Joseph Mitchell, glockenspiel, drums, and percussion; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, cello, hi-hat, voice.