Meridian Arts Ens. “Alchemy” (CD+DVD) & Meridian Arts Ens. “Live in Concert” (DVD) – both Meridian Arts Ens.

Meridian Arts Ensemble, “Alchemy” = music of Byrd, Gesualdo, Corelli, J.S.Bach, de Lassus, Carissimi and Elgar Howarth (Track List follows) – Meridian Arts Ensemble, 8 Bells – (CD + DVD) 59:02, (2/01/13) ***1/2:

Meridian Arts Ensemble, “Live in Concert : The Library of Congress – 2004; Deutsches Jazz Festival – 1997” = music of Stravinsky, Gesualdo, David Sanford, Elliott Sharp, Su Lian Tan, Daniel Grabois, Jon Nelson, Randy Brecker (Track List follows) – Meridian Arts Ensemble, 8 Bells, 59:02, DVD (4:3 PCM stereo) [Both Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (7/10/12) ***1/2:

This is a very talented and diversified brass ensemble you should hear.

The Meridian Brass Ensemble was new to me. This is a genre I do enjoy but do not follow too well, I admit. The Meridian Arts Ensemble is based in New York City, specializing in the performance of new works for brass and percussion, but also in the traditional brass ensemble rep and with equal skill. Founded in 1987, the original members of the group wanted an opportunity to play challenging works, to experience control of their ensemble, and to find creative outlets for their musicianship. Meridian received its early education in the American Brass Quintet’s brass class at the Juilliard School, and then launched its professional career. The ensemble performs regularly as part of the Festival of New Trumpet Music, which is held annually in New York City.

The present members, represented on both this ‘new music’ live concert DVD as well on their Baroque CD include Jon Nelson and Tim Leopold, trumpets, Daniel Grabois, horn, Benjamin Herrington, trombone and Raymond Stewart, tuba. They are joined on the concert DVD Brian McWhorter, trumpet and John Ferrari, percussion. Joining them on their “Alchemy” CD are Dave Ballou, trumpet, Faustino Mendez, trumpet and trombone, Gustavo Morales, trombone and Adam Unsworth, horn.

I enjoyed both of these offerings quite a bit. The Meridian group plays with a great ensemble synchronicity and beautiful tone quality. They are equally at home, it seems, with both the older more ‘traditional’ rep, such as those lush Corelli Sonatas as well with music that is more jazz and jazz inspired.

I guess if I had to pick, I would declare the “Alchemy” collection my favorite as that Baroque brass literature is among my favorite sounds (although I really was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of the bizarrely out of place Pasce Tuos by Elgar Howarth, after an original by Guillaume Dufay.)

The DVD concerts offers very different and largely rewarding surprises. From their Library of Congress concert, I really liked the refreshingly pointy and unexpected sounds of Beyond the Curve by Elliott Sharp. The German Jazz Festival from 1997 is an all modern and very unusual collection, including two of the more impressive charts being written by Meridian members Daniel Grabois and Jon Nelson.

These are not new releases, coming out on the group’s own ‘8 Bells’ label in 2012 and 2013. I only just now acquired these to check out and am glad I did. One word about the concerts DVD. We get no audio or video engineering info nor any background information. This is a straight up video-to-DVD ‘do it yourself’ deal. Honestly, the sound on the DVD is only decent and the video is pretty low tech as well. These programs would have been better served in just a straight stereo CD with proper micing and mixing but that’s my take.

Either or both of these recordings will give you a good sense of this talented brass group. They have also recorded acclaimed collections of Latin American music and done a tribute to Frank Zappa concert. They are well worth seeking out for further performances and recordings.

“Alchemy” CD = TrackList:
1. Gloria from Mass for Five Voices (William Byrd)
2. Occhi Del Mio Cor Vita (Don Carlo Gesulado)
3. Plorate Filii Israel (Carissimi)
4. Eco (Orlando de Lassus)
5. Sonata VIII – Prelude (Arcangelo Corelli)
6. Pasce Tuos (Elgar Howarth)
7. Sonata Pian’e Forte (Giovanni Gabrielli)
8. Sonata VIII – Allemande (Arcangelo Corelli)
9. Six Part Fugue from “the Musical Offering” (J.S. Bach)
10. Sonata VIII – Sarabande (Arcangelo Corelli)
11. Providebam Dominum (Orlando de Lassus)
12. Sonata VIII – Gigue (Arcangelo Corelli)
13. Contrapunctus XV (J.S. Bach)

Live Concert DVD = TrackList:
The Library of Congress (2004)
1. Fanfare for a New Theatre (Igor Stravinsky)
2. Beltá, poi che t’assenti (Don Carlo Gesulado)
3. Corpus (David Sanford)
4. Beyond the Curve (Elliott Sharp)

Deutsches Jazz Festival (1997)
1. Moo Shu Rap Wrap (Su Lian Tan)
2. Migration (Daniel Grabois)
3. Dream of Miles (Jon Nelson)
4. Some Skunk Funk (Randy Brecker, arr. Ben Herrington)

—Daniel Coombs

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