Wednesday, July 07, 2010

HurdAudio Rotation: Three Sides of Tonality

Michael Harrison: Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation. 2007. Cantaloupe Music: CA21043.

Michael Harrison: piano, composition, tuning

I have to think that equal temperament played no small role in the necessary "crisis" that led Arnold Schoenberg and others to develop an atonal harmonic system. The layers of compromise (and poor thirds) laid out in even twelfth-root-of-two semitones along the piano keyboard had robbed tonality of so much color and contrast. So it is no accident that Michael Harrison and others bring a renewed interest in tonality once the harmonic limitations of equal temperament are addressed. The piano itself, and the just intonation system applied to it, is the aural focus of this music. There is brilliant range of consonance and dissonance in this music. A beautiful sound that compositionally owes so much to the great (and sadly difficult to acquire) Well-Tuned Piano of LaMonte Young. The language of "tone clouds" and the "Homage to La Monte" movement are clear nods to an abiding apprenticeship to Young. And also the meditative approach of "Revealing the Tones" and "Revealing the Commas." Indeed, it was the avoidance of harmonic commas - the so-called "wolf tones" that arise from pure intervals not fitting cyclically into 12-notes per octave - that fueled the push toward compromise and equal temperament in the first place. Here, those bitter, dissonant spices are "revealed" and folded into the harmonic fabric. An ear opening work that also reveals the qualities of tonality available when one can hear them in tune.

Philip Glass: From the Philip Glass Recording Archive: Volume II - Orchestral Music. 2007. Orange Mountain Music: 0047.

Days and Nights in Rocinha (1998)
Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Dennis Russell Davies: conductor

Persephone (1994)
The Relache Ensemble
Joseph Franklin: director

Music written with such clarity and simplicity that I can almost imagine a full transcription as it plays. With large tonal consonances that leave me speculating how they would sound in just intonation. If you have any familiarity whatsoever with the musical style of Philip Glass then this is a music that develops without any surprises. And in many ways it leaves me a little hungry for his earlier, edgier and brutally static works. And even a little hungry for dissonance and surprise. But this sound is undeniably pleasant and listening to it is an indulgence. As orchestral works they won't stand out from the Glass oeuvre. But I do enjoy hearing them.

Available Jelly: Happy Camp. 1996. Ramboy: 10.

Michael Moore: alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet
Tobias Delius: tenor saxophone
Eric Boeren: cornet, melodica
Wolter Wierbos: trombone
Ernst Glerum: bass
Michael Vatcher: drums, percussion

Available Jelly plays with a hard swing that simmers their Amsterdam sound with a helping of New Orleans flavor. And a musical sensibility that draws upon a deep reservoir of jazz history without coming up weighted down by everything that has come before. Happy Camp kicks off with a wonderful arrangement of "Nilentika" and "Tanzana Kely" - traditional melodies from Madagascar and then makes a turn toward a sultry rendition of Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz" before jumping headlong into a set of brilliant Michael Moore originals. Along the way the ears are treated to an ever shifting array of improvised material that never loses sight of its swinging impulse. An absolutely solid disc from a great band. Recommended with enthusiasm.

No comments: