AMN Reviews General Releases Reviews

AMN Reviews: Ross Feller – “X/Winds” [Innova 911]

726708691127-front-cover “X/Winds” is the debut disc of composer Ross Feller. The disc contains eight pieces composed by Feller over the last twenty years. Ross Feller is both an accomplished composer and educator. Feller’s compositions have been performed throughout the USA and Europe. As an educator he has taught at the University of Illinois, Oberlin, Georgia State and is currently at Kenyon College in Ohio. Feller is also an accomplished saxophonist and improviser, you can find a recording of him and Roscoe Mitchell improvising together on Feller’s web site. As a composer Feller’s music comes out of the more eclectic aspects of modernism, improvisation, electroacoustics and his interest in contemporary philosophy. Chances are you haven’t heard the music of Ross Feller but you should!

The disc opens with “Triple Threat”, for three soloists and an ensemble of nine. This is a work that deals with opposition and multiplicities, with a form inspired by the fractured lines found in Deleuze and Guattari’s book “A Thousand Plateaus”. The violin, trumpet and clarinet soloists are pitted against the ensemble, with the soloists and various ensemble combinations competing for the listener’s attention. Within the ensemble itself a “classical” percussionist is pitted against a “jazz/rock” trap set player heightening the intensity. It is a highly engaging piece and a wonderful introduction to the music of Ross Feller.

Feller’s use of electroacoustic sound is somewhat unusual in that the sounds are most often used to reinforce or to frame the instruments they accompany instead of being the focal point of a work or an equal member of the ensemble. Instead Feller’s use of electroacoustic sound is a very subtle but very effective enhancement or augmentation of the acoustic instrument or instruments in play. Despite this way of working with electroacoustic sound, all three of the pieces that make use of electroacoustic sounds are very different from one another. “Still Adrift” is for piano and electroacoustic sound. This recording is from a performance by pianist Adam Tendler at Roulette. In this piece the piano part is augmented by a subtle fixed electroacoustic part that focuses on the resonance of the acoustic piano. The effect of the acoustic piano with this electroacoustic sound builds a kind of dreamy virtual space that heightens the natural color of the live acoustic piano as it drifts. In “Sfumato” for violin, bass clarinet and electroacoustic sound, the electroacoustic accompaniment lightly frames the textural and timbral content of the violin and bass clarinet as they explore a variety of textural and timbral contrasts. “Retracing” for violin and electroacoustic sound was originally composed to accompany a dancer but works extremely well as a concert piece and is beautifully performed by Dorothy Martirano. In this work the electroacoustic sounds generally reinforce the harmonic content of the violin but also adds some depth and space to the overall sound field. It is a wonderful piece!

“X/Winds” also contains two very different works for solo instruments. “Bypassing the Ogre” is for solo trumpet and performed by Peter Evans. The piece has a loose, almost improvisatory feel. It makes extensive use of extended techniques and its overall language is reminiscent of sound languages from trumpet innovators such as the AACM’s (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) Lester Bowie and Wadda Leo Smith. On the other hand “Glossolalia” for solo cello is somewhat in the “modernist” vein. Feller comments in the liner notes that he found his inspiration for this piece in the utterances of “ecstatic tongues”. The work is filled with sharp angular gestures, glissandi and various bowing techniques all while navigating rapid changes in dynamics and rhythm. It is given a very dramatic and colorful performance from cellist Franklin Cox.

The album includes two additional ensemble works. “Disjecta” which is the longest piece on this album, is for percussion quintet. “Disjecta” is a striking piece, full of contrasting moods and colors. The five independent parts collaborate and compete, fuse and separate, as they explore pathways of independent rhythmic trajectories that build out from silence. In addition to the wonderful performance from the Oberlin Percussion Group, the recording really captures the spatial placement of the various percussion instruments. The final piece is the title track “X/Winds” which is a work for symphonic wind ensemble with piano and percussion and is performed by the Oberlin Conservatory Wind Ensemble. It is a stunning piece filled with contrasting textures and dynamics that build into frenzy and then dissipate into quiet airy sounds.

Ross Feller’s work freely explores challenging ideas, resulting in original and engaging twenty first century music. Highly recommended!

For more information: Innova/Feller

Chris De Chiara