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Golden Petal Reviews
The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors
By William Zagorski
Of the four CDs submitted for this article, I found the one titled Golden Petals the most intriguing. It is a collection of five pieces showing five distinct and distinctive permutations of jazz — the idiom as practiced by Artie Shaw in his Concerto for Clarinet (as arranged by Newton Wayland and transcribed by Paul English for live clarinet and synthesizer); as filtered through Igor Stravinsky’s musical sensibility in his Ebony Concerto (also transcribed for the forces mentioned above); and as practiced by Janice Misurell-Mitchell in her paradoxical and often haunting Alone Together for bass clarinet and double bass (used in the jazz mode), and Paul English’s bluesy and more accessible The Saxophone, For Solo Saxophone and Female Narrator — both of which are quirky; explore the outermost possibilities of instrumental timbre and technique; and push the concept of thematic variation to impressive heights. I found the disc not only musically refreshing, but often revelatory. Hearing Stravinsky’s music being played by a machine that was able to imbue it with an unearthly metrical evenness, I got a new sense of the reason for his dictum that music should be “realized” not “interpreted.” The rhythmic and metrical precision limned out his complex and subtle rhythms to splendid effect. The largest work, McKinley’s Golden Petals for bass clarinet (interchanged at key moments with soprano saxophone), double bass, and instrumental ensemble, is full of McKinley’s earmarks — sustained ostinatos, telling harmonies, and instrumental flair — it provided woodwind player Richard Nunemaker and bassist Peter Herbert with a fine virtuoso vehicle.
“I’ve been writing music for Nunemaker for over ten years. When I composed Golden Petals, he liked it so much that he wanted it recorded. We recorded it at Rice University with David Colson and the Pierrot Plus Ensemble about five years ago. He, however, couldn’t get it onto a label — it was, once again, the old problem of economics. When MMC was formed I told him that MMC would post-produce Golden Petals. I’m writing a bass clarinet concerto for him in 1995. It will, of course, be recorded by MMC.” Return to top of reviews
RICHARD NUNEMAKER: GOLDEN PETALS. Igor Stravinsky, Ebony Concerto (1945); Janice Misurell-Mitchell, Alone Together (1987); Paul English, The Saxophone, for Solo Saxophone and Female Narrator (1991); William Thomas McKinley, Golden Petals (1985); Artie Shaw, Concerto for Clarinet (1940); Playing time 67:06. MMC Recordings Ltd., 240 West Street, Reading, MA 01867-2847; CD-MMC2005.
Here is a recording perfectly adapted to the beginning of a new century. Depending on different viewpoints, this is either a fantastic breakthrough or simply another step towards a synthetic world….
Richard Nunemaker is a member of the Houston Symphony Orchestra where he performs on the clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone. This recording displays his admirable versatility and expression on these instruments, and features two important jazz concertos, and three new American Works. What is unique about the making of the disc is the electronic orchestration of both concertos. The works have been given new sonorities through re-orchestration for clarinet and computer-assisted synthesizers by jazz pianist Paul English.
Richard Nunemaker knows jazz. He plays freely and idiomatically expresses a full palette of emotions. His versatility on several instruments is impressive and he has the background to match. He has recorded tributes to Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman with Newton Wayland and the Houston Symphony, two Pro Arte compact discs entitled STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY and AMERICA SWINGS….
The new music works on this CD include Janice Misurell-Mitchell’s Alone Together. Currently on the faculty of DePaul University, Mitchell earned several composition awards and grants. Alone Together, a single-movement duo for bass clarinet and double bass (used in its jazz mode) is introspective and quiet, with both instruments in their low range. The style fluctuates from jazz to free jazz to atonality. It is an interesting conversation between players allowing much space for Quasi-improvisation….
…The Saxophone for Solo Saxophone and Female Speaker by Paul English. English is one of the most respected jazz pianists in Texas. He performed with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, David Liebman and Arnett Cobb. He devotes most of his time studying and developing his skills as a serious composer, and already has written numerous works. The Saxophone uses a 1924 text by English newspaper correspondent William Bolitho Ryall. Many ideas in this piece work very well. The speaker’s phrases often are matched by the sax’s expressive playing…. Nunemaker’s virtuosic jazz playing is right on….
Golden Petals by William Thomas McKinley is the featured new work on the CD. Born in New Kensington, PA, in 1938, McKinley is one of America’s most prolific and sought after composers. He learned jazz piano as a child, and by the age of 12 was a member of the musicians union. He has worked with Richard Stoltzman, who has inspired, commissioned, and performed a host of McKinley’s works which mix jazz and classical roots. Golden Petals is a large-framed dramatic two-player concerto for bass clarinet plus saxophone and double bass, commissioned by Nunemaker. The accompaniment is refreshing in that a real orchestra is used, The Pierrot Plus Ensemble with David Colson conducting. Along with the Shaw concerto, this is my favorite work on the recording. It has minimalist and improvisatory elements which are precisely notated. Double bassist Peter Herbert is quite amazing with his high harmonics and flashy pizzicatos. Nunemaker sounds terrific on the soprano sax. The piece is intense and interesting, with a great sax cadenza.
The Pierrot Plus Ensemble was formed by music director and conductor David Colson in 1986. The group consists of eight professional musicians, five of whom are members of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Students at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music supplement the ensemble, enabling Pierrot Plus to present chamber works for any number of players. I give the ensemble and Richard Nunemaker an A+ for their performance on this CD. The Shaw concerto… is a dazzler and is a good reason to acquire the CD. Return to top of reviews
The New Music Connoisseur
Barry L. Cohen
'GOLDEN PETALS', Music of Stravinsky, Misurell-Mitchell, English, McKinley, Shaw, MMC 2005
‘MULTIPLICITIES’, Music of Rockmaker, Colson, Lennon and Lavenda
…"Brilliant, technically amazing, and fearless as well.
Richard Nunemaker is a member of the Houston Symphony, a top-rated solo performer on clarinet, bass clarinet, and sax, and a musician with lots of premieres and commissions to his credit. Like many a single-reedist, he explores the jazz lit unashamedly and is willing to share that fondness with his CD audience.
The album ‘Golden Petals’ offers five compositions so different from each other in style and substance the wonder is their juxtaposition makes any sense at all. And, although, we’ll accept only one of the selections as bona fide serious new music, the whole album is refreshing just for that alone…. The title piece (date 1985) is another one of McKinley’s no-holds barred essays in tension and release, a 22-minute work for bass clarinet, saxophone and percussion that some will find absorbing, others painful— that's McKinley. On another level, his status as the brains behind MMC Records once again assures his being the star of the show, at least the compositional one.
…The arrangement of the Shaw (Clarinet Concerto) by Newton Wayland, on the other hand, lets the sunlight of strings into the big band mix and gives the work some added class.
Though we should really save the sax for a more appropriate survey, we’ll mention that the text for Alone Together is by William Bolitho Ryall, a South African. It’s an homage to the instrument that sounds sincere if a bit corny, helped a lot by the smooth and polished narration of Dr. Chris Steele. Also noteworthy, besides Nunemaker’s precise, yet always energetic playing (often when time seems to be standing still), is the nimble work (jazz and arco) of jazz bassist Peter Herbert, especially in the McKinley, and the all-around fine effort of the Pierrot Plus Ensemble, associated with Rice University.
If ‘Golden Petals’ shows off Nunemaker’s versatility, his ‘Multiplicities’ album focuses on his impressive virtuosity. The disc also seems more serious in intent, all of the compositions, for good or bad, emerging from abstract ideas with, perhaps, one exception-John Anthony Lennon’s Spiderdance of 1995, a 5 1/2-minute piece for clarinet and piano (Scott Holshouser). Mr. Lennon offers no comments on the composition other than this wry verse.
the spider laughs
Thus what we get is a happy, but quirky, jerky little dance in a mostly septimal (or triple-square, triple-square, etc.) meter.
We find the title selection, by Jody Rockmaker, hard to grasp in two or three hearings. It begins with spaced, clearly audible morsels for the soloist — swells, brief motives using techniques like flutter-tonguing, multiphonics, etc.—that are later expanded into longer riff-like cadenzas. But much of it contains plumbings in the lower register that are not fathomable to these faltering ears and are heard as virtual rests. We’re all for experimentation, but before making that compositional plunge composers ought to ask themselves more often “why?”
David Colson’s Dragon Music is a multi-stylistic sextet for clarinet, piano (Sylvie Beaudette) and four percussionists (Jay Harper, Kemoki Bunting, Brian Fruechtenicht and Scott Cummings). There are several exciting passages for all six forces that come out of jazz, Latin music and rock, but they last only briefly so that the clarinetist can shine in a variety of moods. The work ends on a strangely quiescent note. Mr. Colson leads the forces.
Most ambitious is Richard Lavenda’s 33-minute Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet (1997). With so many chamber forms now long fossilized, it is a wonder this combination, going back to Mozart, has endured over the centuries. Don’t expect Mr. Lavenda’s opus to sound like Mozart; the underlying spirit, however, is there — the sense of apartness and togetherness, the exploring of timbral possibility, the moodiness within the more or less disciplined structure. Typically, it is in three movements with the middle "Serenade" a bit freer than the outer two (marked "Blaze and "Dynamo”), but also excursive of the push and pull character of this combo, Mr. Nunemaker is beautifully supported by the T’ang Quartet.
Overall rating:…Mr. Nunemaker’s credentials are firm and his musicianship quite alive and often daring… Return to top of reviews
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