Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Carter and Tymoczko

Below I have written my thoughts on Elliot Carter's Brass Quintet and Dmitri Tymoczko's Rube Goldberg Variations.

First, my thoughts on the Carter:

To me, the overarching theme of this work is chaos. When listening without paying careful attention to the notes in the score the piece sounds chaotic and disorganized. It feels that each listening could provide me with a new experience based on what parts I chose to listen for, especially in the full quintet sections. Having pointed out the chaos in the listening experience, I believe that there are clear elements of organization that would be evident even on the first listening with no score. He does this by creating smaller ensembles within the quintet and having duets and trios carved out of the larger ensemble. Some of these short sections sound like miniature complete works.

On the other hand the Tymoczko left me feeling like the work had been planned out meticulously. The first thing that makes this clear is how the prepared piano sounds "marimba like"before the changes start getting removed following the first movement. There are also several elements to this piece that hint at carefully constructed minimalism. I found that this appearance of careful construction meshed well with the title of the work, which appears to be an homage to both the Goldberg Variations and Rube Goldberg Machines. The mechanical nature of the work comes not from the prepared piano, but in the way the brass is written to sound like the part of a larger machine. I found this to be in strong contrast to the way the Carter sounded.

A deeper dive into the scores revealed some interesting details in both works.

First, in the Carter from measure 30 to 38 is one of the spots I heard as absolute chaos, however this section is carefully constructed both rhythmically and melodically with hocketed lines between the entire ensemble. Another example of how Carter carefully plans out each line between instruments is in the horn and 2nd trumpet duet from mm. 70-94. In this instance, specifically mm. 70-74 he uses dashed lines to indicate how the melodic notes are shared between each part. Lastly, I was struck by mm. 371-391, where the chaos dissipates and the ensemble steps on the breaks to produce long sustained chords. Upon listening this part was quite surprising with a score in my hands, and I can imagine a listener with no score would feel even more put off.

In the Tymoczko I really enjoy the way the piano functions as the driving force behind the work. It was in the the first 12 bars of movement one before the full quintet entered that it sounded most like a marimba to me. I find this interesting because it began to set my expectations for a wind ensemble rather than quintet. In the second movement at measure 22 we finally have the opportunity to hear a single cohesive melodic line from the upper brass. Prior to that measure Tymoczko seems to play with our ears as he builds to the release of rhythmic tension that had built to that point. I found movement four to be the most harmonically interesting movement overall, this may be due to the piano being normal except for two pitches. This allows the chords of the piano to function not only as color, but as  a valuable part the harmonic and melodic product. This is especially apparent when the piano becomes th featured element of the ensemble at rehearsal number 14. If this same figure had appeared in the first movement it is likely the piano would have sounded more percussive, but now we are able to hear the richness of the open piano strings.

Each work was also unique in terms of the feeling created by the language it used. The Carter seemed to dip into darker harmonic ideas overall with strong hinting at atonality. I also found that the way melodies are constructed in the Carter Quintet bring to mind ideas of serialism, I would have to do some closer reading and study to determine if serialism is actually at play in the Carter, but the divided melodies and disjunct solo passages give a strong vibe of serialism. The Carter is a tremendous work, but is a very difficult listen.

The Rube Goldberg Variations surprised me with how bright and optimistic the piece sounded overall. I already referenced the way the piano sounds like marimba or even vibraphone, but I think this plays an important role in how the harmonic language is perceived. Prepared piano could have the tendency to sound "clangy" or atonal, but the way it's used in this work it sets up the "major" open sounding optimistic feel. Overall I thought these optimistic minimalist elements made for an enjoyable listening experience.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Hot 8 Brass Band

The next band I've chosen to feature is the Hot 8 Brass Band, and their recording of Rastafunk from 2007's Rock With the Hot 8. I like how this band has been able to situate themselves as a young group performing the genre of Brass Band music as close to its original style as possible. With their record label debut in 2007 they have come up along bands such as Youngblood Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen, but where those other groups have trended toward producing a more hip hop influenced product the Hot 8 have kept that hip hop influence within the original instrumentation.

I really enjoy the riff based head of Rastafunk, and I think if you didn't know the name of the band it would be easy to believe this was an older chart and recording. Despite the simplicity of the melodies the the level of the playing on this record is quite high. There is also a traditional "chant" section where members sing in unison. This is where the influence of hip hop is most evident. Below I've included a Spotify link to a more recent recording to show how even in the bands continued evolution they have held true to the traditional style.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Off Topic Post: National Trumpet Competition

Good Morning From the Denver International Airport! This weekend i had the pleasure of performing at the National Trumpet Competition with the University of Iowa trumpet ensemble, and as a soloist in the graduate solo division.

This was my third year attending the competition, and I continue to be amazed by the level of playing across each division. According to Dr. Dennis Edelbrock, founder, NTC provides students with an opportunity to perform on a national platform where they can meet and interact with major figures in the trumpet world. I took the opportunity to listen to numerous student performances throughout the weekend and noticed a thread running between soloists especially in the graduate and under-graduate solo divisions. This commonality between most players was a well defined sound concept and exceptional musicality. It's incredible to me that the level of trumpet playing across the country is at an extremely high level regardless of the size or stature of their university.

I was also impressed the high school division, where many students played their solos from memory. Though the sound and musical ideas may not have been quite as mature as the older students these young people were stars when they stepped on stage. I found myself getting quite nervous for these kids especially when i knew their pieces well.

The ensemble divisions were enlightening, especially in terms of the variety of repertoire performed. Many of the pieces were what i would categorize as, high, loud, and fast (even some with choreography), but my favorite works, and performances, were those where the ensembles came out, read off of music, and just played beautiful sounding music at the highest level as an ensemble. I called this approach, "Just roll the ball out there and play, no fancy stuff," I believed these were the most effective performances.

Lastly, the jazz finals performances were the highlight of the students that played this week. These students had mature ideas, stage presence, and distinct sounds. Some of my friends caught a high school student that we think should have a record deal.

In addition to great student performances we heard master classes and performances from: Caleb Hudson, Chris Coletti, Marvin Stamm, Randy Brecker, The USAFA Bands, and Ruben Simeo. Overall this experience continues to open my ears and bolster my love for performing the trumpet as much as humanly possible

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

I first heard of the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble from a classmates presentation this semester. I was drawn not only their unique story, but their unique instrumentation. Although this group may not truly be classified as a "New Orleans Style" band I believe that elements of their music and performances are true to the style I've chosen to write about.

What makes this group interesting is that they are seven brothers, all sons of trumpeter Kelan Phil Cohran. Cohran played trumpet with Sun Ra and Earth, Wind, and Fire during his career. The ensemble is made up of 4 trumpets, 2 trombones, and baritone with different members of the ensemble doubling on guitar, bass, and drums. Their music contains both a second line and hip hop influence that I find to be extremely unique in both genres.