Each piece in Steven Mackey’s album Time Release demonstrates his ability to incorporate varied and imaginative orchestral textures and gestures into a cohesive narrative. Mackey’s music has neo-romantic elements, comprising gestural melodic expression and dialectical forms. He largely uses extended tonality with chromaticism. However, there are frequent non-diatonic and polytonal interjections that are vaguely reminiscent of Charles Ives’ music, as well as textural sections with disorienting pitch content. Notably, Mackey employs these extended tonal sonorities without sounding trite or cinematic. The well-balanced and masterful orchestration of Mackey’s music is handled equally masterfully by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s performance of the work.
Gestural polyrhythms and momentary metric modulations in Mackey’s piece Time Release create a sense of time morphing, possibly reflecting the album’s title. In Time Release: I. Stately – Short/Long, the percussion assumes more than an ornery role, with wood blocks, various earthy percussion instruments and hanging cymbals creating a textured groove and rhythmic dialogue. This is one high point of the album: a refined percussion groove, ornamented with refreshing pitches from the marimba, progresses over swaying and shifting string gestures. Later in the piece, marimba solos are accompanied by a contrapuntal string melody. This unique instrumental combination continuously returns throughout Time Release and adds levity to the piece. As Time Release unfolds, different instruments such as the clarinet and horn are given soloistic autonomy. The marimba continues to engage in compelling dialogue with the orchestra and various soloistic forces throughout the piece.
Another high point of the album is Mackey’s piece Urban Ocean, in which suspended coloristic moments (the piece’s beginning, for example) are incorporated into the narrative of the piece. These are interesting timbral and harmonic moments–bearing a vague resemblance to some spectral music–in which Mackey forms unique acoustic presentations by combining the various symphonic forces. Other pieces in Time Release are recognizably ‘Mackey’ for their expressive, tuneful melodies, as well as their transient, shifting tone and atmosphere.
While Mackey is known to incorporate elements of rock music into his compositions, this album only somewhat reflects that aspect of his work. The album does, however, have some sections which evoke rock as well as other musical genres: the widespread use of the clave, an Afro-Cuban rhythmic pattern (Turn The Key), as well as an energetic, rock-infused percussion solo (Time Release: II. Playful Turbulence – Slow/Fast), display Mackey’s interest for musical styles that are commonly untouched in contemporary classical music.