BILL RYAN: “Billband” = Simples Lines; Towards Daybreak: Rapid Assembly; A Simple Place; Solitude in Transit; Friction; Sparkle; Blurred – Billband (Ashley Bathgate, cello/Vicky Chow, piano/David Cossin, percussion/Michael Lowerstein, bass clarinet/Pablo Mahave-Veglia, cello/Jonathan Nichol, saxophones/Todd Reynolds, violon)/ Paul de Jong, guest cellist – Innova Records 841 (Distr. by Naxos), (1/29/13), 59:40 ****:

Billband was created and promoted by composer Bill Ryan, artistic director of the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble in Allendale, Michigan. Many of his musicians listed are colleagues from the university but with a few “Bang on a Can” players, including violinist Todd Reynolds, as well. Ryan is clearly a young, creative and talented director, composer and promoter of new music who – until now – I was not familiar with. As a conductor Bill has commissioned and premiered dozens of works by Evan Ziporyn, David Lang and many more. Ryan has an extended and deserved reputation as a promoter of new music. This album features his own ensemble, Billband, and gives a very rewarding glimpse into Ryan’s style and capabilities as a composer.

I found each work in this set very interesting and, frequently, quite pretty. Just the opening work, Simple Lines, features some captivating cello work and hooks you in. A similar feel exists in A Simple Place while a somewhat darker tone is achieved with the bass clarinet infused Towards Daybreak. Bill Ryan illustrates his creativity and flexibility in scoring for diverse instruments. The tinkling piano and crystalline texture of the aptly titled Sparkle is a perfect example; the soprano sax solo that creeps in adds to the mysterious beauty!

Another standout for me was the wholly ethereal Solitude in Transit with its somewhat film score feel. It is hard to categorize the music of Bill Ryan. It contains elements of minimalism, light jazz, new age and “experimental” classical. It may remind some of Harold Budd in places, Brian Eno in others, maybe even a little Tangerine Dream. Most importantly, this is extremely entertaining music. The members of the Billband are outstanding musicians and their chemistry is apparent. This ensemble is completely tight and very capable. I recommend this highly and cannot wait to hear more from Bill Ryan!

—Daniel Coombs