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Joseph Daley: Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love

Hrayr Attarian By

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A veteran of the adventurous music scene for over four decades, tubaist and composer Joseph Daley has rarely sought the spotlight for himself, but he has left his indelible mark on all projects with which he was involved. Daley, who spent most of his professional life as an educator, is the consummate artist as he balances an intrepid explorative spirit with a mature, wise temperament. His works defy narrow genre-ism and are sublime examples of the universality of the musical language.

His 2014 Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love features four, modernistic concertos each coalescing around one or more soloists. The compositions are boldly innovative all the while remaining anchored in tradition. They are free flowing, flirting with dissonance yet maintain a strong melodic sense.

The multipart "Wispercussion" is a sweeping and simultaneously intimate tribute to versatile and unique percussionist Warren Smith. Smith, who has performed in such diverse settings as accessible soul-pop and uncompromising avant-garde, has not received his due recognition despite his enormous talent. His strangely captivating 1988 Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight from the Darkside of the Moon for instance has attained cult status among jazz fans.

Smith matches the tonalities of his various instrumental monologues to each of the suite's five distinct moods. On the intriguing first movement, Smith's crystalline vibraphone transforms from darkly resonant to brightly shimmering as the piece evolves from crepuscular to acerbic and incandescent. Smith's mallets cascade on the marimba like cool spring water on the Coplandesque (composer Aaron Copland), cinematic second. The third showcases Smith's expectant tympani around which the orchestra coalesces in angst-ridden swirls of sound. On the fourth segment Smith's ethereal gongs chime over an otherworldly and hypnotic mélange of Asian folk influences and the strings' Western tinged bittersweet refrains. Smith lets loose his thunderous polyrhythmic drums that drive the fanciful and tzigane-ish rolling harmonies on the last part. The superb contrast between Smith's primal beats and the ensemble's elegantly undulating waltz simmers with understated passion.

Smith also propels the dramatic "Industria" with his buoyant tympani. Violinist Elektra Kurtis takes her turn in the spotlight in a boldly creative soliloquy that brims with Levantine mysticism. Kurtis, who has a pan-European background, brings an unmistakable subtlety and suave virtuosity to Daley's achingly gorgeous, poetic composition. The dual basses of Ben Brown and Ken Filiano add a delightfully arcane undercurrent with their thumps and thrums. The track closes with an angular and provocative conversation.

Another violinist Charles Burnham brings his characteristic fiery, genre-bending style to the indigo hued and lush "Dorothea and the Blues." The evocative tune written for Daley's wife of more than four decades opens with keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs' crackling and soulful lines over funky percussion. The romantic and easy orchestral sway gives way to Burnham's eloquent solo as he embellishes the main theme with unfettered imagination and sophisticated, ardent phraseology.

Daley's long time collaborator woodwind player Bill Cole displays the haunting tones of the Indian double reed Nagaswaram on the tense and atmospheric "Shadrack." Cole, a specialist in non-western aerophones and an ethnomusicologist, wails and drones in an intensely fervent and intelligent performance that has a futuristic flavor. Cellist Akua Dixon, an outstanding composer and arranger in her own right, enhances the organic feel of the track with her warm, emotive and agile song.

With his third release under his own name, Daley presents an encompassing and ingenious work that thrills, delights and provokes. It is a multicultural creation that is the perfect reflection of its era and milieu. Like every great opus, however, it transcends both time and place in its scope and has all the makings of an enduring classic.

Track Listing: Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith, Pt. 1; Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith, Pt. 2; Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith, Pt. 3; Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith, Pt. 4; Wispercussion: Five Portraits of Warren Smith, Pt. 5; Shadrack / Portrait of Bill Cole; Doretha and the Blues / Portrait of Wanda Daley; Industria.

Personnel: Joseph Daley: composer and conductor; Curtis Stewart: violin, concertmaster; Mazz Swift: violin; Jason Hwang: violin; Skye Steele: violin; Charles Burnham: violin; Elektra Kurtis: violin; Jessie Montgomery: violin; Sarah Bernstein: violin; Nick Revel: viola; Janina Norpoth: viola; Trevor New: viola; Nora Krohn: viola; Akua Dixon: cello; Marika Hughes: cello; Amanda Gookin: cello; Rubin Kodheli: cello; Ken Filiano: bass; Ben Brown: bass; Lafayette Harris: piano and keyboards; Warren Smith: percussion, Jerry Gonzalez: trumpet and percussion (6, 7, 8); Onaje Allan Gumbs: keyboards (6, 7, 8); Satoko Takeishi: percussion (6, 7, 8); Richard Huntley: percussion (6, 7, 8); Gregory Williams: French horn (8).

Title: Portraits: Wind, Thunder and Love | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Self Produced

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