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Friday, December 1, 2017

George Lewis, Assemblage, Ensemble Dal Niente

Some of the greatest jazz luminaries turned at times to so-called classical, long-form ideas. James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington come immediately to mind. In the improvised world of avant jazz since 1960 distinctions can become blurred, as I have addressed through many examples on my Gapplegate Music Blog, on my Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog, and at times on these pages. "The Skies of America" by Ornette Coleman of course stands out as a milestone of such confluences. There are some very important trends on the purely improvisational front as well. I speak of those things in greater depth in other posts.

Regardless of the many ways to look at and hear music of a modern sort, one thing stands clear in my mind. That is, that composer-trombonist George Lewis has been making some extraordinary New Music over the years. He is a marvel, an innovative and lucid composer of great importance.

Last February 27th I reviewed his fine album "The Will to Adorn." I return today to take a look at another set of his compositions, Assemblage (New World 80792-2), featuring the talented chamber Ensemble Dal Niente.

The avant jazz of the present era is many things. One of the aspects is its vocabulary of phrasing, of sound color, of playing and silence. Undoubtedly a key to it is the extension of the Afro-American musical vocabulary inherent in traditional forms. Yet it is true also that there is chalk-talk venn diagrammatic commonalities between its vocabulary and that of classical avant high modernism. If you asked George Lewis himself I have no doubt he would (and does) have much to say in this regard about his music in whatever form it takes. His modern classical compositional stance does create common ground between Afro-jazz expression and long-form new music of high modern provenance.

Most importantly he carves out his own personal expressions on this shifting turf with great brilliance, I would say. This is nowhere more true than on the four Lewis compositions featured on this program.

In all of it the elemental musical gestures of bowing, drumming (percussing), blowing, plucking, in togetherness or alone, with spaces of tacit presence, and the infinity of confluences are very much the building blocks used to constructing the music itself. How could it not be so? Yet it is George Lewis' expressive joining together of the elements that sets him apart yet makes him an integral part too of the music of right now.

So the album's program of chamber works for the ensembles of six, seven, nine or two instrumentalists presents itself to us in ways that bring us a new and personal take on what can be. If there are key centers they are not so crucial as is the full unfolding of a universe of organized sound color and the testificatory push of each work.

Each of the pieces makes its way forward as a distinct entity. Thanks to the inventive fullness of the Lewis expression we have a special world of sound for "Mnemosis" (2012) for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, percussion; "Hexis" (2013) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion; "The Mangle of Practice" (2014) for violin and piano; and "Assemblage" (2013) for flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, viola, cello, harp, piano, percussion. Each has an organic being that stands alongside the others as a unique realization of the Lewis imagination.

The performances are outstanding, or at least impress me as fully living and excitingly fluid. I suspect Maestro Lewis was satisfied with the realizations, which at this point is what matters.

For us, the listener, there is much to hear and absorb. Each new immersion in the program reveals a fuller universe of sound, a greater understanding and appreciation of what is there.

Assemblage reaffirms the true stature and importance of George Lewis the modern-day composer. Those who expect New Music to BE new will gravitate happily to this release. It is very much a music of TODAY and excellent fare that all should listen to carefully and ultimately, if you are like me, joyfully!

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