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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Patricia Morehead, Brass Rail Blues

On March 16, 2012 I reviewed favorably Patricia Morehead's Good News Falls Gently on these pages. Today we have her second album, a collection of mostly songs entitled Brass Rail Blues (Navona 5953). It is music of a gestural modernism that works within an advanced harmonic palette that approaches atonality but generally stays within key centers one way or another.

The works for voice and instruments are situated within a chamber setting. "Alaskan Songs" features mezzo-soprano Julia Bentley plus clarinet and piano, "Three French Songs" has Bentley again with piano accompaniment, "Sempre un Giorno Nuovo" spotlights soprano Alicia Berneche with piano, "Two Movements from Tryptich" gives us Susanna Phillips in the soprano role plus string quartet, and "The Wonderful Musician" encores Julia Bentley with the CUBE Chamber Orchestra. The latter is a work of real modernist power. The pieces in song form have an edgy quality and well-conceived phrasing sequences that convey the emotive impact of the texts.

Interspersed throughout the program are several instrumental works: "The Edible Flute" for flute and piano, and "Just Before the Rain" for mandolin, cello and clarinet. The latter I particularly like for its lively sound color contrasts between the instruments.

These are works of substance. Patricia Morehead has a sure sense of instrumentation, a flair for vocal writing and text setting, and a modern expressionism that wears well with repetitive auditions.

"Brass Rail Blues" from Tryptich has an Americana favor, bluesy yet straying nicely into modern harmonic territory.

There is much to like in this program. Patricia Morehead gives us more reasons why she is a composer of today, someone to follow with interest. Recommended.

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