Cold Blue Music almost could have released these four short CDs as a single disc, but keeping these works separated makes a statement that each one has a distinct identity, and deserves to be heard in a kind of isolation, if you will. According to Cold Blue Music's press release, each disc is "a mini-concert that doesn't need additional music to be a full and satisfying listening experience." (Hmmph, plenty of people would say that about Albinoni's famous Adagio as well!) Needless to say, Cold Blue is offering these discs at a reduced price.
Jim Fox founded Cold Blue Music, and it is appropriate that The City the Wind Swept Away is the first of these four offerings. This is an uninterruptedly slow and quiet work, dominated by shifting and repeated patterns of a few notes from the piano – imagine a music box on its last legs and you'll get some idea of what this work sounds like. Long held notes in the strings and brass support the piano part, creating an atmosphere that is both ethereal and oppressive.
The solely acoustic textures of Fox's work give way to the electronic accents of Daniel Lentz's Los Tigres de Marte. After pressing the "Play" button, one is immediately immersed in a beautiful landscape – perhaps it's spring, perhaps it's the dawn – although it seems likely that the landscape is on Mars, not on Earth. The "Lever du jour" from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé might have been Lentz's model. In time, Marty Walker's clarinet emerges from the softly swirling mass of sound. And then – surprise! – the tempo picks up, and one finds oneself in the middle of a Martian Bacchanale. This doesn't last long however, and Los Tigres de Marte wends its way to an end with the clarinet singing a rapturous solo over a warm backdrop of strings and electronics, in which synthesized harp and brass sounds play a prominent role.
A Temperament for Angels is the richest and most orchestral of these works, although it requires only a handful of performers, thanks to sampling and multi-tracking technologies. Its composer, Michael Jon Fink, is a Cold Blue Music regular; his works appear on several earlier discs. Throughout its 28-minute length, this music catches the ear with its juxtaposition of extremes, particularly low versus high, and rough versus smooth, yet its overall texture is metallic. A Temperament for Angels wears an uncomforting aspect. Perhaps its infinitely overlapping drones, like the overhead flight of unfamiliar airplanes, are meant as an antidote to prettified "New Age" music.
Steve Peters is a New Mexico-based composer who has drawn inspiration from "world music" (gamelan ensembles, for example) as well as from contemporary trends in experimental music. His CD contains two works drawn from a larger dance/theater work called Shelter. Three Short Stories is a trilogy for three multi-tracked violas. Long, irregular phrases evoke a kind of story-telling, and the use of multiple violas creates a panorama of shifting perspectives. The music is unadorned and plain-spoken, with no artifice whatsoever. My burning skin to sleep is scored for piano (softly chiming and sustained chords which hang in the air like stars) and the multi-tracked vocalise of singer Marghreta Cordero. Her singing is both mournful and erotic, and while the "oohs" and "aahs" feel spontaneous, one notes how perfectly the vocal parts are tuned to each other, as well as to Peters's ringing piano chords.
As usual, Cold Blue sacrifices information to aesthetics. There are no program notes to speak of with any of these CDs, and I am grateful that the label sent me a press release to help flesh out the details.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle