In its brief existence, Cantaloupe Music has become one of the most intrepid labels in new music, and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn, a member of the Bang on a Can All-Stars, has emerged as one of its most powerful compositional voices. One test of an artist's worth is his or her ability to take influences and create a new voice by filtering them through a more personal lens, and Ziporyn's previous records for the labelThis is Not a Clarinet (Cantaloupe, 2001) and Shadowbang (Cantaloupe, 2003)were undeniably distinctive, mixing his interest in classical form with music from distant cultures.
Frog's Eye is his first record of orchestral works, and he meets the ambition of writing for larger ensembles head-on. This program continues to mix his diverse interests, including Balinese Gamelan, minimalism and unorthodox textures. Finding an ensemble capable of navigating Ziporyn's multifaceted compositions was no small feat, but the Boston Modern Orchestra Project is clearly sympathetic to the composer's broader requirements.
The title track begins with clear references to Steve Reich but, like modern-day Reich, Ziporyn goes beyond the mathematical to create music that's hypnotic by virtue of its repetition, and innately lyrical as well. Simple melodic and rhythmic fragments are introduced, gradually fading into the mix as new ones are establisheduntil, in some cases, they disappear entirely. The result is a pulsing ebb and flow that develops in ways beyond the interaction of these fragments, coming across as more based on movement than the persistent evolutionary development of pure minimalism.
The other orchestral track, "War Chant, begins by referencing composer György Ligeti. Long-toned melodic ideas emerge out of a strangely static yet swirling undercurrent, with the occasional sharp punctuation added for dramatic contrast. But while his spatial concept is similar, Ziporyn doesn't rely on the tension that Ligeti's microtonal dissonance created. Instead he incorporates percussion along with Hawaiian guitar to create a more diverse landscape. The composition gradually evolves through an almost jazz-like horn section to a more delicate Gamelan-like passage of cascading strings and light percussion. Then it advances to a darkly spaced climax that, finally, releases tension with spare dissonant chords and gradually slowing percussion, before returning to Ligeti territory for its brief coda.
"The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute, with soprano Anne Harley, and the closing "Drill, featuring Ziporyn on bass clarinet, were written for a wind ensemble subset of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Both pieces challenge convention through the addition of a percussion section that, again, connects to Ziporyn's world music concerns.
Together the four compositions form what Ziporyn calls "an inadvertent symphony each piece is self-reliant, yet they all work as part of an unintended larger whole. Frog's Eye is further evidence of Ziproyn's status as a composer of increasing significance.
Frog's Eye; The Ornate Zither and the Nomad Flute; War Chant; Drill.
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