Classical CD Reviews
“Hot” = Works by GEORGES APERGHIS, ANOTHONY CHEUNG, AARON CASSIDY, MARCOS BALTER, CHAYA CZERNOWIN & FRANCO DONATONI – Ryan Muncy, saxophones – New Focus
Published on November 20, 2013
“Hot” = GEORGES APERGHIS: Rasch; ANTHONY CHEUNG: Refrain from Riffing; AARON CASSIDY: Asphyxia; MARCOS BALTER: Strohbass; CHAYA CZERNOWIN: The Last Leaf; FRANCO DONATONI: Hot – Ryan Muncy, saxophones/ Ensemble Dal Niente – New Focus Recordings FCR130 (10/29/13) 64:28 ***:
From Mr. Muncy’s website, Ryan Muncy is a saxophonist who performs, commissions, and presents new music. His work emphasizes collaborative relationships with composers and artists of his generation and aims to reimagine the way listeners experience the saxophone through contemporary music. Since 2010, Muncy has been the executive director of Ensemble Dal Niente, a 20-member contemporary music collective described by the Chicago Tribune as “super-musicians” and “a model of what contemporary music needs, but seldom gets, to reach and engage a wider public”. Under his leadership, Dal Niente became Chicago’s most active local presenter of contemporary music and in 2012 was named the first-ever ensemble recipient of the Kranichstein Music Prize, awarded at the 46th International Summer Courses for New Music in Darmstadt, Germany.
I take a very pragmatic approach to music in general and contemporary music in particular. My inner-Chicagoan agrees with what the Tribune says about Muncy and his ensemble. They really are “super-musicians”. The music contained in this solo album by Muncy is all, seemingly, very difficult and requires some very advanced techniques. The music herein also requires some keen awareness of the leading edge of arthouse contemporary music. I do not think any of the music here is even remotely “mainstream” and yet it is quite interesting.
Rasch by Georges Aperghis is very nearly an abstract jam for soprano saxophone and viola and contains some nice interplay between the two soloists. The coyly titled Refrain from Riffing by Anthony Cheung is a similarly structured “discussion” between alto sax and harp. I actually liked this piece as one of my favorites on this album for its rather overtly jazz-tinged feel.
Asphyxia by Aaron Cassidy is a wildly improvisatory work for solo soprano saxophone. It sounds nearly “breathless” in places and provides some extreme challenges for the soloist. The other solo soprano sax work here, The Last Leaf, by Chaya Czernowin (actually this is for the Eb sopranino sax) is notable for its nearly insect-like flitting about on this notoriously difficult-to-control little instrument.
I was pretty intrigued by Strohbass for bass flute and baritone saxophone by Marcos Balter. Taking its title in part from the bizarre nineteenth century instrument the Strohviolin, special commendation must be given to flutist Claire Chase for putting the already difficult-to-play bass flute through some gymnastics.
The title work, Hot, by Franco Donatoni is, in many ways, the centerpiece of this collection. The soloists involve tenor and sopranino saxophones in this work that has some nice, moody ensemble sound. I felt this work also requires really tight playing and I enjoyed its jazz inspired sound as well.
There is no question that Ryan Muncy is a very skilled player, as are all members of the Ensemble Dal Niente. I had never heard of any of these composers and research shows that they come from a variety of backgrounds and locales including Greece, San Francisco, England, Brazil, Israel and Italy. Based only on these brief samples it also seems their music is quite “modernist” and many might find it fairly abstract. Probably my first indication that this was going to be the case was the inside booklet notes by Seth Brodsky discussing Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the context of music (and I admit I didn’t get it….)
There is also no question that this is a very niche album, appealing most likely to fans of progressive jazz and the very avant-garde. It places extreme demands on the players as well as the listener. You have to be amazed by the playing; the music itself: maybe yes, maybe no.