© 2017 Bill Whitley

Reviews

Album Review: MIND & MACHINE 2017

Mind & Machine is the first of two electro-acoustic compilations to be released by Ravello Records. Featuring the work of seven composers on six tracks, the album explores the incredible range of works that can be categorized as electro-acoustic, a music in which styles are dictated by the technology that is at the heart of its performance...

The pieces on Mind & Machine range from the beautiful and uplifting ('Absent Light' and 'Sunrise Sonata') to the downright creepy ('Costa Mesa Rocking Chair').

The album contains 6 tracks (48 min, 16 sec) and hands done, no hesitation, the highlight is Bill Whitley's beautifully constructed 'Absent Light' which sucks you in. This is the one track where I was disappointed when it was all over. A truly beautiful piece.

It's an interesting and captivating album which showcases some incredibly moving works by very different composers. I'm looking forward to hearing what's unleashed in the second volume.

reviewgraveyard.

Album Review: I Dream Awake 2017

Bill Whitley ‘I Dream Awake’

(Ravello 2017)

Era quasi inevitabile che la musica del giovane compositore e pianista americano Bill Whitley mi piacesse, data la mia ammirazione per molti dei compositori che egli stesso cita come suoi modelli: Meredith Monk, Lou Harrison, David Lang, tanto per citarne alcuni. Le influenze esercitate dai Maestri si fondono, nella scrittura di Withley, con altre fonti di ispirazione: dalle scale e dagli incastri ritmici tipici della musica asiatica, specie indonesiana – si ascoltino soprattutto Awake, per flauto, sax e pianoforte, e Little White Salmon, per pianoforti e voce recitante – al ricorso ad armonie diatoniche. Ad emergere, distintiva, è una vena narrativa che si esplica nella studiata interpolazione di incisivi episodi melodici e ritmici, insieme a momenti di sospeso e incantato lirismo: paradigmatiche in tal senso sono Los Cielos, per sax e pianoforte, e The Creation of the World per due chitarre. Caratteristiche che, nell’insieme, donano alle composizioni di Withley un appeal che, credo, incontrerà il gusto non solo mio, ma anche quello di molti ascoltatori.

Aggiunto: October 16th 2017
Recensore: Filippo Focosi
Voto: 3 1/2 Stars
Link Correlati: Ravello Records Home Page
Hits: 322
Lingua: italian

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Album Review: I Dream Awake 2017

WHITLEY Los cielos1. Lily of Force2. The Creation of the World3. Awake4. Little White Salmon5 • 1,2,4Federico De Zottis (sax); 1,2,4,5Elena Telarico (pn); 2Stefano Grasso (vib); 2Matteo Lorito (db); 3Eni Lulja, Elisa La Marca (gtr); 4Francesco Marzano (fl); 5Donna Henderson (voc); 5Donna Handerson (nar) • RAVELLO 7971 (63:05)

Superbly recorded over the course of two days in Milan, Italy, this is a terrific introduction to the eclectic music of Bill Whitley. Influences on Whitley includes Cage, Meredith Monk, and John Luther Adams.

Meditation, mysticism, and Nature are all vital aspects of Bill Whitley’s art. For Los cielos, three cities in Mexico that Whitley visited while on a trip to Mexico with his family give the titles of each of the three movements. “Cholula” is mobile, the introduction of the soprano saxophone adding a jazz timbre; the far more meditative “Ixtapaluca” is an expressive song without words for sax. Pianist Elena Telarico delivers the piano’s droplets of sound to perfection; the way that merges and interacts with the solo line is at once intensely still and beautiful but also part of an interiorization process.

Taking its inspiration from Alexander Calder’s remarkable 1945 creation of painted sheet metal and wire, Lily of Force is scored for the magical combination of soprano sax, vibes, double bass, and piano. From stillness comes pulsation; expectant and threatening to be wild, the piece represents Whitley’s personal reaction to Calder’s masterpiece. There is a sense of playfulness there, too.

The idea behind The Creation of the World (2016) is an examination of two different creation myths, South Asian and Chinook. The first, “Ocean’s Veil,” utilizes an Indian raga while telling in sound the story of the World being formed as the Ocean tries to hide from the Sun’s seduction, using her daughters, the clouds, as cover. Sun, Ocean, and Clouds all have a different melody and rhythmic cycle. The second, “Coyote Draws Yakail-Wimakl,” finds the Creator as animal (coyote). The coyote’s dance, intended to cure his loneliness, culminates in an 11/8 fugue. There is a vitality to “Ocean’s Veil” that is most appealing, and which contrasts with the smoother, more reflective flow of the Chinook-inspired movement. The recording quality is perfectly judged: All detail is clear and the placement of the instruments is faultless. The performances themselves are similarly faultless technically, but even more, the players immerse themselves in the spirit of each movement perfectly.

Scored for saxophone, flute, and piano, Awake of 2015 is inspired by mandala. There is certainly a feeling of hypnotic, circular motion. The soprano sax of Federico De Zottis sings its touching song over repeated cells in the piano, its aching intensity accentuated by the intertwining flute of Francesco Marzano; it is here one might posit the voice of John Luther Adams in the background. Suddenly, the music “wakes up” to a more objectivized quasi-Minimalism, and suddenly the demands on the performer are of a very different ilk altogether. The return to the opening reflection is most effective, an invitation to distanced meditation, the territory now recontextualized.

Finally, Little White Salmon (2010) for narrator (words by the poet Donna Henderson) and two pianos is rendered here by the same pianist, the excellent Elena Telarico. The piece traces the life of a sockeye salmon from the fish’s viewpoint; the metaphor of the human experience is part of the underlying dynamic. The placing of the narration in the sound image is such that it becomes very much one strand of the texture, not a foregrounded focus, which adds a kind of mystery.

FANFARE: Colin Clarke

Album Review: I Dream Awake 2017

WHITLEY Los cielos1. Lily of Force2. The Creation of the World3. Awake4. Little White Salmon5 • 1,2,4Federico De Zottis (sax); 1,2,4,5Elena Telarico (pn); 2Stefano Grasso (vib); 2Matteo Lorito (db); 3Eni Lulja, Elisa La Marca (gtr); 4Francesco Marzano (fl); 5Donna Henderson (voc); 5Donna Handerson (nar) • RAVELLO 7971 (63:05)

From Debussy on there have been any number of Western composers who have, at times, succumbed to the lure of the East: Colin McPhee, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, John Cage, for starters. Bill Whitley would be at home in their company, as he’s divested himself of one of the bedrocks of traditional, tonal Western music—dependence on chord progressions as both a structural and emotional device—in favor of an Indian melodic, modal, and cyclical model.

Although the Indian influence is inescapable in Los Cielos, the familiarity conferred by the piano and saxophone soloists, minus the sustained drone and microtonal inflections of traditional Indian music, define the work as something of a hybrid. While the piano can’t really be thought of as an Indian instrument, despite having added its unique timbre to many Bollywood film scores, the soprano saxophone is a persuasive substitute for its Eastern cousin, the shenai. Categories and compositional strategies aside, Los Cielos is immediately appealing—bright, up-tempo in “Cholula” (the first of three movements), soulfully meditative in “Ixtapaluca” and “Oaxaca.”

Lily of Force, named for an Alexander Calder mobile, passes through two locales, Indian and Javanese/Balinese. The opening measure’s steady string bass pulse evocatively supports the saxophone’s melodic wanderings, after which the pace becomes more animated, with the vibraphone adding a pleasing gamelan-like shimmer.

The Creation of the World sets two myths, one from South Asia, the other from the Chinook people, to music for guitar duo. It’s a two-movement work—“Ocean’s Veil,” followed by “Coyote Draws Yakail-Wimakl”—with each half representing one of the creation stories. In the first movement, “contrasting Indian modes and rhythmic cycles” (according to Whitley) symbolize Sun, Ocean, and Clouds. The composer hopes his audience will be able to identify them as the piece unfolds—repeated listening no doubt would help—but if not, it’s still an involving work that casts a subtly exotic spell. Despite Whitley’s avowed allegiance to Indian forms and modes, he does show other influences: The lovely melody at the beginning of “Coyote Draws Yakail-Wimakl” owes a (perhaps unconscious) debt to the English Renaissance, just as English and American folksongs can trace their genesis back to the same period. This presence persists throughout the dance that Coyote performs “as a remedy for his loneliness” and can be heard as well in the “ecstatic fugue in 11/8” that heralds the return of the sweetly melancholy song that began the movement.

Awake’s haunting early measures are analogous to an alap, “the improvised section of a raga, forming a prologue to the formal expression” (Google online dictionary). Whitley cleverly finds other Western simulacra for Indian practice: for example, his use of a continually vacillating two-note figure in place of a drone. A sonorous, slowly decaying piano bass note, repeated at intervals, fulfills a similar function. While Awake initially unfolds within an Indian milieu, when the flute appears the scene shifts, acquiring a tranquil Japanese ambiance. A lively, bouncy episode, similar in tone to Jean-Pierre Rampal’s recording of Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano, allusively combined with the afore-mentioned two-note motif, ensues. After a while the opening material returns to complete the rondo/arch form that Whitley chose “to express a mandala experience.”

Little White Salmon paints an imaginative, poetic picture of “the life-span of a pacific (specifically Sockeye) salmon, from the salmon’s point of view … the piece is also about the salmon life-cycle as a metaphor for the human experience.” The varying temperament of the Columbia River, the salmon’s natural habitat, is vividly brought to life by the alternately swirling and placid piano accompaniment that sensitively complements Donna Henderson’s hushed narration of her own and Bill Whitley’s gently ecstatic lyrics. A brief history of the Columbia River is an unexpected and, in the context, humorous touch, but is soon just a memory, as the river’s—and salmon’s—journey flows on.

If this synopsis intrigues you, don’t hesitate to seek out Bill Whitley’s I Dream Awake. You’ll encounter a composer whose beautifully accomplished aesthetic synthesis proves that East is East and West is West, but sometimes the twain shall meet.

FANFARE: Robert Schulslaper

Album Review: I Dream Awake 2017

Bill Whitley: I Dream Awake
Ravello Records

Much could be made of the profound impact Alexander Calder's mobiles had on American composer Bill Whitley when he first saw them in 2003 and how the experience subsequently transformed his approach to composition; of the encounter, he states, “I stood there completely entranced by the mobiles, with the way the suspended shapes moved in response to air currents, balanced and dynamic—a stable structure with a shifting form” (one album setting, Lily of Force, even takes its title directly from a Calder mobile). As interesting as the detail is, the intoxicating effect of the five chamber works presented on I Dream Awake can be explained more simply by citing their creator's exceptional command of melody and compositional form. The music on this engaging set ravishes the ear, so much so that it stands head and shoulders above other recordings of its ilk.

Whitley's music possesses an immediate appeal that can be explained, at least in part, by his background and influences. A graduate of the universities of Idaho and Oregon, he's studied with Robert Kyr and David Crumb, among others, and taken master classes with Lou Harrison, George Crumb, Velio Tormis, John Adams, and John Corigliano. Characteristics associated with mysticism, nature, and meditation emerge in Whitley's music, and though it's nominally classical, elements of raga music, gamelan, and progressive rock surface also; in that regard, it doesn't surprise that figures such as Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Meredith Monk, John Luther Adams, Lou Harrison, and Pauline Oliveros are cited as influences.

 

That melodic allure is in place the moment 2008's Los Cielos inaugurates the album with a three-part setting whose titles reference cities he and his family visited while on a trip to Mexico. Scored for soprano saxophone and piano, the piece sees the woodwind taking flight during the rapturous “Cholula” before “Ixtapaluca” grounds the material with an emotionally expressive central episode marked by plaintive longing. On the spirited, single-movement showpiece Lily of Force, soprano saxist Federico De Zottis and pianist Elena Talarico reappear, this time accompanied by contrabassist Matteo Lorito and vibes player Stefano Grasso. A lengthy setting such as the thirteen-minute Awake affords Whitley time to explore a plethora of moods within a single piece, with in this case the soprano sax, flute, and piano trio ranging between haunting meditative sequences and joyous uptempo episodes.

 

As consistently strong as I Dream Awake is, two pieces stand out as particularly memorable. Performed by guitarists Eni Lulja and Elisa La Marca, the two-movement The Creation of the World (2016) dazzles the ear with its flavourful folk-classical writing and infectious rhythmic energy. Up first, “Ocean's Veil” entices with a series of ascending melodic figures and the intricate intertwine of the classical guitar patterns. Inspired by a Chinook creation story in which Coyote dances to cure his loneliness and thereby creates the world, “Coyote Draws Yakail-Wimakl” begins with an affectingly mournful section before transitioning into a bright fugue in 11/8. Even more striking is 2010's Little White Salmon, a seven-movement cycle realized stirringly by pianist Elena Talarico and narrator Donna Henderson; in using the life cycle of a pacific salmon as an allegory for the human experience, Whitley's connection to nature and mysticism comes to the fore, and the text co-written by the composer and Henderson is suitably Whitman-esque. The coupling of Henderson's resonant voice with Talarico's sparkling accompaniment (multi-tracked, if I'm not mistaken) makes for one of the recording's most potent pairings.

 

Whitley composes music of integrity and sophistication that's also disarmingly accessible—not an easy combination to achieve, even if he makes it sound easy on this superb collection. Like others before him, he benefits from the treatment given his music by Parma, the parent company to the Ravello Records label. In fashioning an overview of the composer's work by having a number of different instrumental groupings appear on the release, the company presents Whitley in a manner that's immensely flattering.

August 2017

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