“Blues Dialogues” – Rachel Barton Pine, v/ Matthew Hagle, p – Cedille CDR 90000 182, 75:52 *****:
Several years ago, Rachel Barton Pine issued a collection of classical concertos by black composers. Here, as part of her ongoing Black Composers Project, she completes the second volume in what is an interesting series. This time the focus is on the blues, a genre which has its obvious origin in black music, though the form itself has long bled into other cultural communities too. And interestingly enough, several of the pieces on this disc are so lightly connected to the blues that their composers can be said to use them only as a reference point.
One of these is Billy Childs’s (b. 1957) Incident on Larpenteur Avenue, a 2018 work commissioned especially for this album, based on the 2016 incident where Philandro Castile was killed by a Minnesota police officer, later acquitted. I won’t get into the politics of the event, streamed live on social media, or whether the shooting was justified. As I have mentioned before, these sorts of musical descriptions have little interest for me, even if it does serve as the catalyst for a composer’s inspiration. In fact, I listened to all these pieces before reading the notes about them, and I would have had no idea that Childs is referencing this simply by listening to the music, nor does it affect me hearing it again afterward. Music, after all, retains its own power by virtue of the notes, not the attachments to the notes. As such, it is a wonderful piece, nearly impressionistic in places, and very complacent in terms of bluesy connotations, yet none the lesser for that. Childs certainly knowns how to write for the violin.
There are too many works here to cover them all, so I will zero in on a few. It is a joy to hear anything by the vastly underrated David Baker, long-time trombone-then-cello player, and head of the Jazz Studies Program at Indiana University for many years until his death in 2016. Baker, a true polyglot, was a whiz at so many styles and types of music that it is almost impossible to categorize him or them. His Blues, short though it is, provides a good demonstration of his art.
William Grant Still is probably the greatest composer represented here, with his Suite a model of classical grace coupled with deep borrowings from the black community. The 1943 work takes its cue from three visual artists, a plastic sculpture by Richard Barthe called “African Dancer”, Sargent Johnson’s “Mother and Child” (lithography and sculpture, in one of the most exquisitely beautiful movements of chamber music I have ever heard), and Augusta Savage’s “Gamin”, the last movement full of energy and zest.
Dolores White’s Blues Dialogues, from which is taken the title of this disc, mines a rich vein of blues influences in its four movements, with lines that smack of improvisation yet owe much to her “adored composers” like Bartok, Stravinsky, Carter, Ginastera, and Thelonius Monk. This astounding solo violin piece holds its own among contemporary solo string works with ease.
This is just a sampling of what you will find on this amazing disc. Barton Pine and partner Matthew Hagle are to be commended for such a thoughtful, gracious, and inspiring program, recorded in Cedille’s typical robust and clear sound.
DAVID N. BAKER: Blues (Deliver My Soul)
COLERIDGE-TAYLOR PERKINSON: Blue/s Forms for solo violin; Louisiana Blues Strut (A Cakewalk) for solo violin
WILLIAM GRANT STILL: Suite for Violin and Piano
NOEL DA COSTA: A Set of Dance Tunes for Solo Violin
CLARENCE CAMERON WHITE: Levee Dance
DUKE ELLINGTON, ARR. WENDELL LOGAN: In a Sentimental Mood
DOLORES WHITE: Blues Dialogues for solo violin
ERROLLYN WALLEN: Woogie Boogie
BILLY CHILDS: Incident on Larpenteur Avenue
DANIEL BERNARD ROUMAIN: Filter for Unaccompanied Violin
CHARLES S. BROWN: A Song Without Words
WILLIAM GRANT STILL, ARR. LOUIS KAUFMAN: “Blues” from Lenox Avenue for violin and piano
More information and track samples may be found at Çedille: