AMN Reviews: Andrea Cheeseman – SOMEWHERE (2019; Ravello Records)

Clarinetist and electroacoustic composer Andrea Cheeseman achieves a remarkable range of sonorities and atmospheres from the clarinet and recorded sound in “Somewhere,” while achieving a common aesthetic throughout the album.  Cheeseman’s clarinet lines are often of main focus in these pieces: verdant, thoughtful melodic lines evoke Stravinsky and Bartok.  Cheeseman frequently employs recognizable sonic samples, along with disfigured percussion with industrial qualities.  Her use of panning effects and attention to register creates tangible layers of depth and dimension.  These effects sometimes border on the cinematic.  

To highlight the range of sounds and techniques Cheeseman uses, in one song human breathing, accompanying the clarinet, transforms into currents of rattling sound. A Gnawa-like groove consisting of sampled weaving loom sounds drives Penelope’s Song forward, while processed bird calls appear in another piece.  Breath has a fascinating celestial atmosphere reminiscent of Gamelan music, with a vaporized mosaic of microtonal pitches.   

While recorded sound and polystylism are important aspects of “Somewhere,” Cheeseman also creates interest using more basic musical elements.  Arioso Doubles opens with clarinet lines that metamorphose into shimmering feedback, which sometimes harmonize with the clarinet.  Cheeseman’s clarinet lines are often angular and tonally disorienting, yet they retain an organic quality.  Moments appear in Ariosa Doubles that could render the piece polystylistic: accompanied by a rich timbral sheet of processed harmony, one section of the piece sounds like a reminiscence of folk music—bare, yet honest and evocative.  Cheeseman transitions back to more complex pitch organizations after this simple melodic section.  

The folk music sonority found in Ariosa Doubles reappears throughout the album, most distinctly in the piece Favorable Odds. Pentatonic clarinet lines create impressionistic atmospheres that morph into sounds of English folk music.  Favorable Odds is certainly polystylistic:  The pentatonic opening transitions to an unquantized stammering of electronic blips and buzzes, which turns into a forward driving groove with bluesy clarinet lines.  While this sounds like an impossible conglomeration of sonorities, the piece has a striking amount of integrity. 

The juxtaposition of musical styles, including adapted world music styles, urges the listener to develop a narrative about the relationship between the eras and cultures belonging to each style.  The episodic arrangement of different styles creates potential for a rich polyvalence of narratives, which could involve topics like technological progression and nature, or globalization.  From a purely aesthetic perspective, Cheeseman’s album contrasts sonorities that are distinctive and compelling in order to create elaborate sound environments.  

Thomas McGee