“Balance Problems” = Works by NICO MUHLY, MARCOS BALTER, ANDREW NORMAN, JEREMY TURNER, MARK DANCIGERS, SUFJAN STEVENS – yMUSIC – New Amsterdam

“Balance Problems” = NICO MUHLY: Balance Problems; MARCOS BALTER: Bladed Stance; ANDREW NORMAN: Music in Circles, part 1 & part2; JEREMY TURNER: The Bear and the Squirrel; TIMO ANDRES: Safe Travels; MARK DANCIGERS: Everness; SUFJAN STEVENS: The Human Plague – yMUSIC – New Amsterdam NWAM059, 46:45 (9/30/2014) [Distr. By Naxos] ***1/2:

(yMusic is Rob Moose – violin, guitar/ Nadia Sirota – viola/Clarice Jensen – cello/ Hideaki Aomori – clarinet/ Alex Sopp – flute/C.J. Camerieri – trumpet, horn)

All of the composers here represent what I am coming to think as a sort of new modern American sound. The style is typically a product of the under-forty crowd and is no longer straight up “minimalist”, nor is it neo-Romantic and it certainly does not rely on the purposefully dissonant. There is, rather, a refreshingly easy to listen to but hard to describe quality to all the pieces in this collection and others by the numerous like-minded composers.

The title work, Balance Problems, by Philip Glass protégé Nico Muhly is a sparkling and catchy work that moves in waves of beautiful little bits of harmony and melody with variety in tempo and harmonic progression at just the right moments. There are a couple of “balance problems” of a sort when a stately trumpet line worthy of Copland competes with the chattering winds underneath. There are moments in this highly attractive work that reminded me of John Adams (the San Francisco one.)

I also enjoyed the more ethereal Bladed Stance by Marcos Balter. I have heard other works by Balter and there are some of those same oscillating cells that can be found in much of the music of the style but Balter’s voice is still unique. Small bits of melody and a great deal of beauty emerge from the texture of this rather compact work and I liked it a great deal.

I have heard some Andrew Norman as well and his two part Music in Circles makes me want to hear more. This music is well placed in the set as it represents quite a departure from the previous two works. Part one of the Music in Circles involves an extended cadenza of sorts for solo violin that gets more and more animated, leading seemingly seamlessly into part two which features a trumpet competing for attention against the strings swirling and arguing underneath. This work is a bit more “nervous” in its energy than the Balter work, for example, but it is very attractive and quite interesting.

I simply love the title The Bear and the Squirrel by Jeremy Turner, who has made quite a name as composer writing for short films and commercials. Surprisingly, to me, The Bear and the Squirrel is a simply lovely and fairly short work written especially for yMUSIC. I could not find an explanation of the title but if one was expecting “cartoon music”, it certainly is not.

Timo Andres is a New York—based pianist composer and his Safe Travels is an exciting and propulsive work that reminded me a bit of Michael Torke. The harmonies shift rapidly and the texture is light and engaging throughout.  Everness by Mark Dancigers is also a light, “airy” work that contains some delightful little snippets that sound a bit like “Mendelssohn-meets-Nyman” (my description). Dancigers is also a film composer and I only know this one work but it is truly enjoyable.

This collection concludes with The Human Plague by Sufjan Stevens, Stevens is a Detroit native singer, guitarist and composer with a very eclectic background, having done rock, folk, some electronics and some “classical” works such as this. This work is another in which the title is misleading. I thought something entitled The Human Plague would sound overtly dark or ponderous and this does not. There is a constant cellular pulse within the music that shifts harmonic flavor quite gradually and the dynamics follow a constant rise and fall pattern until the work does kind of ‘fade out’ at barely over four minutes.

I stand by my thoughts that yMUSIC and the composers represented here are idiomatic of a new style in American music; one that I – generally – like a great deal. Of the works here, I think nearly anyone would enjoy those by Muhly, Balter and Turner but, for me, they are all quite attractive and I really like this album!

—Daniel Coombs

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