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Monday, March 27, 2017

Jerome Combier, Gone, Ensemble Cairn

Some ultra-contemporary composers write music so timbrally striking that the once sharp divide between electronic and instrumental music is radically blurred. Ensemble Cairn negotiates the realms of color and shadow and creates a unerringly vivid picture of such a music, the music of Jerome Combier. Gone (Aeon AECD 1651) brings to the listener a program of five Combier compositions that challenge our everyday assumptions of what instruments are "supposed" to sound like, and, for that matter how they are supposed to interact with electronic sounds.

The chamber plus electronic pieces form the beginning and end points of the album, but the middle works are no less exploratory in their compelling acoustical mass. Ensemble Cairn forms a mid-sized chamber ensemble, or a mini-chamber orchestra. There is a flautist, a clarinetist, pianist, guitarist, harpist, and a string quartet altogether.

The various Combier works call for various instrumental combinations, making entirely coherent demands on the players in a body of extended techniques, all of which results in a series of stunning sound-color sculptures.

"Dawnlight" (2015) opens the program with a long sound tapestry for flute, piano, violin, cello and electronics. This is music that travels beyond tonality or its lack to enter complex relationships between clearly pitched, sonically complex multiple pitch emanations and relatively unpitched percussive outbursts. One might say the same for all the works in this program.

In fact the huge potential vocabulary of electronic sounds matches the sonic variabilities of the instrumental utterances in brilliantly contrasting groupings and unexpected regroupings.

The middle part of the program brings three purely instrumental works to our ears. "Noir gris" (2007) for string trio, "Dog eat dog" (2014) for cello and guitar, and "Terra d'ombra" (2012-2015) for piano, harp and cello each has a unique and startling sonance. There are rich universes of dramatically narrative timbral relationships that unfold with unexpected and endlessly fascinating regular-irregularity.

Finally the 20-minute title work "Gone" (2010) for clarinet, piano, string trio and electronics unleashes the most sustained new timbral world of all. There are few living composers that could match this work for its startlingly inimitable palette of sounds and sequences.

In short Jerome Combier in Gone brings us signature high-modernist music with a brilliance that is virtually unparalleled in new music today. Ensemble Cairn brings their considerable contemporary technical prowess to bear on some of the most challenging instrumental works extant. They make of each of them a poetic totality, a remarkable achievement. Most importantly they bring us a beautiful realization of Jerome Combier's considerably prescient musical vision.

Unforgettable music. Essential listening!


  1. Hi Grego. Great review of an outstanding recording. You will find the ensemble is Ensemble Cairn (not Calm).
    Love your blog!
    Pauly from Oz

  2. Hi Pauly,
    Thanks for the kind words! CAIRN? Agh! I am going blind! I just fixed it. Thanks so much for pointing that out.

  3. Dear Grego,

    Thank you very much for this meticulous and generous comment of "GONE"
    Jérôme Combier

  4. Dear Grego,

    Thank you very much for this meticulous and generous comment of "GONE"
    Jérôme Combier