Terra Incognita: Paquito D'Rivera, Kites (2005), Jason Moran, Cane (2008), Wayne Shorter, Terra Incognita (2006); Imani Winds: Valerie Coleman, flute and piccolo; Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe; Mariam Adam, clarinet and bass clarinet; Jeff Scott, horn, Monica Ellis, bassoon, with Paquito D'Rivera, clarinet & Alex Brown, piano; E1 Music E1E-CD 7782, © 2010, TT 46:30, $17.98.
The composers of these works, all written for Imani winds and recorded here for the first time, are all jazz musician-composers, and these are their first compositions for classical woodwind quartet. According to the liner notes, all drew on their life experiences for the inspiration of the compositions. They each worked differently, however, to create them: Shorter presented Imani with a completed piece without dynamic and tempo markings, telling them to "improvise" those as they saw fit, differently each time they played it, so it is the work that is closest of the three to the jazz tradition. Indeed, a shorter but more improvisational version is available only on iTunes. Moran, on the other hand, worked with Imani every step of the way, having them try out different sections and adjusting the score with their input. D'Rivera chose a method between these two extremes, since he is also a participant in its execution, and featured his signature jazzy Afro-Cuban rhythms.
On the other side of this compositional coin, Imani actively seeks new music and works to enlarge the wind quintet repertoire, whose standard fare they find "…a bit light and fluffy, just bouncing along. That's not to say that it may not have structure and be good writing, but music like that is the bane of our existence. We want to show the power of our horns, though not in a crass way. We always go for beautiful sounds. We're not playing jazz per se, but hope to have developed an approach in interpretation that has the energy of improvisation. We make music that makes you feel different, that rides the edge. We like to be engaging and intense." Having heard them live, and listened to this CD, I can attest to their success in attaining their goals. This music is unquestionably classical, in many ways less conventionally "jazzy" than some scores by composers of the mid-20th century, such as Milhaud, for example.
Moran's four-movement work tells the story of his ancestor Marie-Thérèse Coin-Coin, beginning with her parent's Middle Passage journey from Togo to the US, continuing with her life in Natchitoches, LA, where she was enslaved and bore 10 children by her master/owner, and Natchez, LA, where she established the first parish for Gens Libres de Couleur, St. Augustine, and concluding with the composer's carrying of the Creole traditions to his NYC home. No knowledge of the back story is necessary to appreciate and enjoy the music, which is quite upbeat in view of many elements of its narrative. Shorter's single-movement piece evokes for me exploration and discovery of the jungle with animal- and bird-like sounds, dominated by the flute, although the oboe has an obbligato solo in the center. Cuban-native D'Rivera's two-movment work, which opens and closes with spoken texts whose unidentified author/speaker wishes to be a kite, is not surprisingly dominated by the clarinet and the piano, and is fanciful, suggesting in the first movement, "Kites Over Havana," their movements in the breeze, tethered though they be. Its second movement entitled "Wind Chimes," plays with the fact that the music is made with human supplied wind, having the instruments interplay with each other in call and response. It is perhaps the most conventional-jazz seeming of the works.
The attractive tri-fold "booklet" features a reproduction of details of a Henri Rousseau, "Le Douanier," painting (in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia) of jungle vegetation on its cover (and the face of the disk and both sides of the tray card) and informative and well-written notes by jazz commentator Howard Mandel, frequently quoting the musicians, as well as the credits. Curiously, no timings either for individual tracks, works (each is more or less 15 minutes long), or total, are printed anywhere. Because it was recorded at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in NYC, whose acoustic is splendid, the recorded sound is stunning. My sole complaint is not about the quality but the quantity of the offerings; in today's world, when you can get 80 minutes of music on a CD, it is disappointing to have only 45! I want more! Surely the musicians could have found at least one other similar work, if not two, to fill this disk out…, perhaps something arranged or composed by one of the musicians?