Classical CD Reviews

“Colliding Objects: Music by DAVID KECHLEY” = Dancing; Design and Construction; Untimely Passages; Available Light; Colliding Objects – Innova

Colorful, engaging. David Kechley’s music may not give you a lot to cogitate on, but it is certainly ear-tickling.

Published on April 9, 2013

“Colliding Objects: Music by DAVID KECHLEY” = Dancing; Design and Construction; Untimely Passages; Available Light; Colliding Objects – Innova

“Colliding Objects: Music by DAVID KECHLEY” = Dancing; Design and Construction; Untimely Passages; Available Light; Colliding Objects – Matthew Gold, Joseph Tompkins,  Matt Ward, Eric Poland, + Chris Thompson, percussion/ Tom Bergeron – trumpet, Flugelhorn, and piccolo trumpet/ Steven Bodner – alto, baritone, and soprano sax/ Candy Chiu – marimba/ Linda Chatterton – flute /Ina Zdorovetchi – harp /Doris Stevenson, p. – Innova 829, 76:00 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Composer David Kechley was born in Seattle, studied music in the middle of the country (at the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western), and now finds himself on the other side of the country, at Williams College in Massachusetts, where he serves on the music faculty. His teachers included, among others, Robert Suderburg and Donald Erb, both of who, like Kechley, have written for fairly unusual combinations of instruments, but beyond that, there seems to be little lasting influence—at least given what I hear on the current disc. I can buy into the brief description of his style that appears in the notes to the recording: “His music draws upon classic 20th Century works, vernacular, popular, jazz, world, and ethnic music. These influences are integrated into a consistent style, but the resulting musical narratives create sharp contrasts among lyricism, virtuosity, and dramatic gesture.”

The works with percussion—Dancing, Design and Construction, and Colliding Objects—are all highly rhythmical and draw on those popular musical influences cited above. Dances, for example, is a series of four pieces each using a different group of percussion instruments. Of the four, Bug Dance (the second) and War Dance (the last) employ instruments that naturally lend themselves to pop influences. Bug Dance, “inspired by a modern dance piece,” features claves, sandpaper blocks, and guiros, giving it a Latin sound and beat, while War Dance, “a free-for-all using as many drums as possible,” sounds at times like a drum solo by the likes of Buddy Rich. The other pieces in Dancing are more abstract. The first number, “One-Legged Dance,” “extends Schönberg’s notion of Klangfarbenmelodie by assigning each percussionist a different note in a single line.” The third piece, Dream Dance, is scored for pitched percussion, including bells and marimba, and in its quiet (at times almost to the point of inaudibility) use of polyrhythms is very dreamlike—but not very danceable!

Design and Construction was written for three colleagues who helped Kechley with an assignment for a class he was teaching. The three happened to play trumpet, sax, and percussion, and so the piece is scored for those instruments, the trumpet player doubling on Flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet, while the saxophonist plays alto, baritone, and soprano sax, giving the piece a wider range of colors. The very combination of instruments suggests jazz, and the piece is jazzy, a bit cool and uninvolving for my taste. The title, by the way, was “inspired by the circular saw blades and pine planks we cut to different lengths to sound as Bb, Eb, C, and F as heard in the first and last movements.” Weird, but unfortunately not weird enough to elevate the piece beyond the level of a curiosity, as far as I’m concerned.

I find much more to like in the title piece, Colliding Objects, which is a kind of mini-piano concerto with percussion, the pianist made to get into the act as she wields “almglocken” [tuned cowbells], a suspended cymbal, and mallets played on the piano strings.” The interaction between the piano, played in both a lyrical and percussive manner, and the percussion instruments has a great deal of dramatic potential and makes for an especially engaging piece.

Very different are Untimely Passages and Available Light. Untimely Passages, subtitled A Slow Grove & Chaconne for Marimba & Flugelhorn, is mild-mannered, attractive but not particularly memorable, except that in the wake of the cubistic Design and Construction, Untimely Passages shows that Kechley is not afraid of lyricism and sustained melody. Available Light—originally written for Kechley’s flutist wife Jerilee, who sadly never got to play the work—is far more striking as the composer sets out to prove that the combination of flute and harp “is capable of more than pretty sounds, and that the harp is particularly misunderstood.” So in the first movement, “the harp plays at least as many fast and aggressive notes as the flute.” A refreshing change, especially if you’re expecting something along the lines of Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. And yet in the finale, titled “Lyric Transformation,” the flute initially lofts a lovely melody over gentle harp chords: here, Debussy and Ravel don’t seem so very far away after all.

There is certainly enough variety here to entertain and to suggest that David Kechley is a composer who invites further acquaintance. None of the music on Colliding Objects is intellectually deep or demanding, but I can’t imagine you won’t find something here to enjoy, including the lively performances and the very immediate recording, which captures all those percussive transients in really juicy detail.

—Lee Passarella




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