Evan Weiss – Math or Magic – Inner Circle Music INCM 018, 58:13 [https://evanweissmusic.com/live/] ****:
(Evan Weiss – trumpet; Hildegunn Gjedrem – vocals; Julee Kim Walker – flute; Chris Bullock – clarinet; Jager Loyde – bassoon; Fredrick Mckee – violin; Imelda Tecson – viola; Shawna Hamilton – cello; Jiri Levicek – piano; Ryan Hagler – bass; Ross Pederson – drums; Michael D’Angelo – percussion)
Trumpeter Evan Weiss believes strongly in relationships and connections. On his large ensemble debut project, the hour-long Math or Magic, the young composer blends minimalism, neo-classical, jazz and chamber music into a unified whole which has many interlocking parts, conjoined thematic units and associated layers. To make his creative activity easier to digest, Weiss put liner notes and Venn diagrams on his website to map out the complex links among his 13 original compositions and for even closer inspection the website also includes the score for the Math or Magic title track.
Weiss’ trumpet is not necessarily always the lead instrument, but when he steps forward he elevates or heightens the jazz elements. More often Weiss employs the instrumental canvas of the larger group – which features bassoon, flute, clarinet, piano, bass, drums/percussion and a string trio – to accentuate, amplify or advance his ideas. “Left of Center,” for example, grows from Weiss’ application of orchestral timbres – including the repetition of single measures and related groups of measures – to form an inclusive piece which manipulates strings, multiplied horns, doubled percussion and Hildegunn Gjedrem’s electronically-processed Norwegian spoken word vocals. The effect is comparable to some of Michael Nyman’s cinematic work.
Film and literature both highlight the similarly symphonic “Incidents of Half an Hour,” a lengthier composition influenced by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Masque of the Red Death. Weiss provides room for an extended and forlorn trumpet solo which rides atop the strings and Ross Pederson’s jazz-tinted drums. At the conclusion a ticking, chiming clock sound enters to indicate the inevitable entrance of the plague which claims all. If anyone decides to re-orchestrate Roger Corman’s movie version of the Poe tale, Weiss would definitely qualify.
Particular motifs and refrains sift in and out of several pieces which imparts both continuity to the overall album, and singular aspects to each segment. A case in point is the three brief vibraphone “Triptych” interludes which are spaced evenly between the longer tracks. Another instance comes with the two cuts, “The Beginning” and “The End,” where certain melodies and textures stay constant throughout both pieces: harmonic settings are developed on the first tune and then restated in imitative counterpoint on the second tune, and in turn the themes are also echoed elsewhere on the record.
Weiss also reimagines some of his earlier material with an intriguing outcome. The closing number, “What We Make of It,” was initially crafted for an almost entirely electronic group. In this new interpretation, vestiges from the electric rendition are revised into Weiss’ warmer arrangement, which retains some rock music connotations but now has a crisper tone augmented by violin, viola and cello, Jiri Levicek’s piano and the horns.
Kudos go to engineer Michael Vazquez for his endeavors to integrate solo instruments such as trumpet, bass and cello with the bigger horn and string sections while never losing the audio details needed to bring Weiss’ arrangements to life: there are nuances and items throughout which enhance specific moments and strengthen the listening experience and Vazquez’s studio labor helps keep them in the foreground.
1. Math or Magic
2. Left of Center
3. Triptych 1
4. Incidents of Half an Hour
5. Circuitous Circuits
6. Triptych II
7. The Beginning
9. The End
10. Painting with Numbers
11. Triptych III
12. Beast Fear Us
13. What We Make of It
— Doug Simpson