Tuesday, February 11, 2020
Ben Verdery, Scenes from Ellis Island, New Guitar Music
It is work that evokes both musical and extra-musical associations and does so with a sense of eclectic encompass. Listeners would not mistake this music for something historical, older. It is thoroughly of our time without necessarily being rabidly "Modern." For that it is thoroughly Contemporary. There are "Progressive" elements, a nod to Popular Culture (in vocalist's beat box rhythms on "From Aristotle") a kind of ethnic vocal panorama (in "Scenes from Ellis Island") and some very nicely hewn guitar lines, some fascinating inventions for one or two guitars, vocals, and in one case, cello (the latter on the title work).
Ben Verdery in the liners talks of the varying inspirations for the works on the album. The opening "What He Said" (with Simon Powis on second guitar) utilizes call-and-response and musically portrays Verdery's inspired love of Gospel Music.
"Now and Ever" centers on the minor second interval, accentuated by a special tuning. The interval for the composer represents the struggle and sorrow of those suffering repression.
The four-part "From Aristotle" features a co-composed collaboration with mixed vocalist Mark Martin (with beat box, Tuvan overtone singing, East Indian rhythms, synchronized vocal-guitar lines and a "baroque/gospel guitar lament") both making musical equivalencies to several texts by Aristotle.
"the rain falls equally on all things" was initially inspired by Schubert's "Nachtstuck."
"Scenes from Ellis Island" followed from the composer's visit to the historic site and his feelings on encountering evidence of the bold and brave process of immigration, of those "yearning to breathe free" as the iconic poem about Lady Liberty has it.
In the main this music gives us some extraordinary well constructed, inspired and for that matter well played guitar works. Anyone who looks for such things in the New Music realm should find this one especially nice, I would hope. Recommended.