Classical CD Reviews

DEREK BERMEL: “Canzonas Americanas” = Canzonas Americanas; Three Rivers; At the End of the World; Hot Zone; Continental Divide; Natural Selection – Alarm Will Sound/ Alan Pierson – Canteloupe Music

World music from varied perspectives bound to impress.

Published on February 5, 2013

DEREK BERMEL: “Canzonas Americanas” = Canzonas Americanas; Three Rivers; At the End of the World; Hot Zone; Continental Divide; Natural Selection – Alarm Will Sound/ Alan Pierson – Canteloupe Music

DEREK BERMEL: “Canzonas Americanas” = Canzonas Americanas; Three Rivers; At the End of the World; Hot Zone; Continental Divide; Natural Selection – Alarm Will Sound/ Alan Pierson – Canteloupe Music CA21088 (Distr. by Naxos), 63:08 ****:

Derek Bermel is a truly unique composer with a highly eclectic vision. From his earliest work at MIT, he has sought a style of music that has its origins in several different worlds. An excellent example is the jazzy and Latin-tinged Canzonas Americanas that opens this set. This four movement twist on Latin styles and Pan-American themes was written for the LA Philharmonic “Green Umbrella” series and is great fun to listen to. The work clearly shows some of the influences of Bermel’s collaborations and studies with such artists as Paquito D’Rivera and Wynton Marsalis as well as the Brazilian caxixi master Julio Goes.

This wholly engaging little suite is followed by Three Rivers which is an earlier work and uses some African style rhythms and quirky melodies to depict three rivers, evocative of Pittsburgh or maybe an imaginary confluence like the strains in the piece. At the End of the World is a short, simple and beautiful setting of a poem by Nicole Krauss, sung here wonderfully by Kierra Duffy.

Bermel’s fascination with African rhythm and Ghanaian melodic fragments shows itself nicely in Hot Zone. This work reveals how Bermel’s studies in Ghana collide in a most entertaining way with jazz. Continental Divide is the oldest work in the collection and dates from when the composer was studying with Louis Andriessen and is inspired somewhat by the writings by Stephen Hawking about an expanding universe. The rhythmic layering in this work is pretty dense and the sound of the piece is a bit “darker” than the others but there are bursts of tone color and clarity that give the work great complexity (according to booklet notes, this is a very challenging piece – sounds like it is!)

The disc closes with the four movement Natural Selection, a fascinating exploration of human condition on poems by Wendy Walters and Naomi Nye. The styles range from nightclub to gospel to Native American folk song and are sung quite effectively by baritone Timothy Jones.

Derek Bermel is a multi-talented composer-performer (also a very fine clarinetist) and his music is both wholly unique and very nearly indescribable. This collection is performed exceptionally well by the amazing new music ensemble, Alarm Will Sound, conducted by Alan Pierson and I recommend it strongly. I cannot imagine that anyone would not find something in this composer’s voice to be fond of.

—Daniel Coombs




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