Numinous is the name of the ensemble that composer Joseph C. Phillips has been operating in the New York City area since 2000 to provide a vehicle for his ambitious compositions. Part new music, part improvisation, part world music, he composes works that are both challenging and hypnotically enthralling. The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr. is the first recording, with his ever-changing ensemble, with the expressed intention of promoting his compositions to a larger audience. Phillips has said that his intention is “...to create profound and beautiful music, not necessarily or always in the classic sense of beauty, meaning pleasing sounds, but music whose intention is to express something meaningful and hopefully lasting. ” Clearly, on the evidence of this recording, Phillips is succeeding on all counts.
From the opening track, “To Kyoto,” which brings to mind the minimalism and phase recordings of composer Steve Reich, to “Lost in the Stars,” which comes from a similar place as Bob Belden’s Black Dahlia , Phillips has created a series of seven extended compositions that create a multitude of moods and textures. And even when he is being reverential, as he is on “To Kyoto,” he avoids the trappings of being imitative; by using the form as a reference point, but less mathematically precise, more human than its source, he creates a sound that is equally trance-inducing but less overtly repetitive.
Numinous, a fourteen-piece ensemble, has so much instrumental diversity, especially in the area of the woodwinds, that Phillips has plenty of timbres at his disposal. From the Oregon-like oboe work and percussion of “A Tear of the Clouds” to the darker, more orchestral leanings of “rothko,” Numinous’ members clearly understand a multitude of styles and structural approaches. And improvisation, while clearly focused around a rigidly-structured backdrop, is an integral part of the proceedings. Nick Mancini’s vibraphone solo, at a later section of the already-mentioned “A Tear in the Clouds” is unquestionably from someone with a jazz vernacular.
What makes the whole programme distinctive is, in fact, the way that some pieces effortlessly take reference from many sources, the end result being greater than the sum of the parts. “Sweetness” begins with long, dissonant tones that recall composers like Ligeti, but before being lulled into a false sense of complacency the piece shifts into a lush theme, driven by a percussion-based groove; no sooner is that theme established then the composition changes gears again, this time to an almost noir-ish passage, with a saxophone/bass duet. For all the diversity of the piece, the ultimate result is a coherent statement; with a cinematic approach, this is highly visual stuff.
With a chamber jazz sound that entices while, at the same time, uncompromisingly challenging the listener to become engrossed in extended forms that play like travelogues to places both far away and near to home, The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr. , introduces a composer with a personal and stylistically liberated vision.
Track Listing: To Kyoto; Lost in the Stars; A Tear of the Clouds; Sweetness; Adrian; rothko; The Polar Express
Personnel: Ben Kono (alto and soprano saxophones, piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, alto flute), Tom Christensen (tenor saxophone, oboe, English Horn, clarinet, flute), Ed Xiques (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, alto flute, flute), Dave Smith (trumpet, flugelhorn), Deborah Weisz (trombone), Nick Mancini (vibraphone), Michael Laven (marimba), Roberto Piket (piano), Jon Uman (percussion), David Grunberg (violin), Sarah Bernstein (violin), Victoria Leavitt (violoncello), Nicci Welch (violoncello), Noriko Ueda (bass), Joseph C. Phillips Jr. (conductor and composer)