Little Jimmy is a backpacker’s campground in the Angeles National Forest; it also is a place in which Los Angeles composer Andrew McIntosh made field recordings during a visit in 2019. The recordings—of trees and birds—play a role in two of the six movements of Little Jimmy, a work for two pianists and two percussionists composed in 2020 for the quartet Yarn/Wire, one of contemporary music’s most exciting chamber ensembles.
Little Jimmy is an atmospheric work in which evocative sounds rather than melodies or harmonic patterns provide the binding thematic material. The brief first movement provides an opening flourish of repeated, upper-register figures passed between the two pianos. McIntosh’s field recordings come into play in the sparse second movement, largely made up of subdued, quasi-electronic sounds interspersed with piano interventions suggestive of birdsongs. Movement three is a variation on the first movement, followed by a long fourth movement centered on a tamboura-like, overtone-rich drone played on bowed piano strings which surges over and under subtle washes of tuned percussion. The slow call-and-response between the pianos and tuned and untuned percussion of the penultimate movement sets up the conclusion, a somber movement framed by field recordings. This final movement retrospectively recasts the entire piece as an elegy for Little Jimmy, which shortly after McIntosh’s visit was devastated by a fire.
Little Jimmy is accompanied by two shorter works for solo instrumentalists. I Have a Lot to Learn (2019), performed by pianist Laura Barger, consists of an austere series of chord stabs allowed to decay at length into the surrounding space, while 2021’s Learning, commissioned and performed by percussionist Russell Greenberg, is a contemplative piece for vibraphone, glockenspiel, and sine tones.