JAMES ADLER “Introspections” = Music by JAMES ADLER, KEVIN CUMMINGS, PAUL TUROK and SETH BEDFORD (TrackList follows) – James Adler, piano/various soloists/ U.S. Marine Chamber Orch./Jason K. Fettig – Albany TROY1529, 77:58 (12/01/14) **1/2:
I have heard some of James Adler’s music as well as his work as a pianist before and, while I have been generally impressed, his own compositions have not done as much for me as his very sensitive work as a pianist; not that there aren’t some impressive works out there by Mr. Adler.
One problem I had with this album is that found the whole concept to be a bit odd; kind of a James Adler resume album. We have basically three aspects of Adler’s musical life and talent on display here: as composer, as performer and as a dedicateé.
Of the works by Adler, I truly enjoyed the poignant and lovely Psalm for Michael for oboe, cello and piano. Written specifically to commemorate the loss of his brother, Michael, mere months after their mother passed away. This is a truly touching work.
I also found Adler’s spiky and somewhat amusing Twisted Tango for tenor sax and piano quite entertaining. This is a nice showy work for the soloist and evokes the styles of Milhaud and Piazzolla in places. Saxophonist David Babich carries the mood very well and has a great ‘crossover’ tone quality.
I have to honestly report that the other works by Adler in this collection just did not do much for me. He has a very diverse and ‘at the moment’ style that I admire but I think he is at his best when he writes in the ‘introspective’ vein of Psalm for Michael or when he conveys a rather jazzy idiom. I just did not get behind some of the music that seems to evoke older more Baroque-inspired forms as in the Suite Moderne or the Six Little Variations for Noël Ancien.
Lastly, I found his 3 Introspections for baritone voice (sung here quite well by Malcolm Merriweather) interesting but David Cote’s text is pretty esoteric and seems to speak to the composer, of course, but the whole work leaves a kind of unsettling impression. There is an oboe part – almost an obligato – that feels a bit out of place; though very well-played by Virginia Brewer.
So what of the works by other composers here that were all written for Adler, apparently? For my tastes, the best of those – in fact the best composition in this collection – is the Clarinet Sonata by Paul Turok. This was one of Turok’s last works, written in 2012, and is a brooding but highly dramatic work that is reminiscent, somewhat, of Henry Cowell. The connection to Adler is not clear but this is a strong work, performed here quite well by the brilliant young virtuoso Alexander Fiterstein.
Three Works for James Adler by Kevin Cummins is a fun, sometimes pointy set of works that show off the pianist quite well and left a nice impression. I was a little less impressed with the nostalgic, folksy two movements from Three Postcards for Piano by Seth Bedford. It is, essentially, salon music and succeeds in being pretty and somewhat of a “period piece” but, ultimately it just did not captivate my attention.
In summary, I really find this disc to be extremely medium-interesting. Adler is a fine player and I do like some of his works – in this set; especially the Psalm for Michael – but the works as a set do not capture my attention. Again, in my opinion, the best of music on this disc is that by Turok. I do give all due credit to the performers who are uniformly quite good.
1-5. Suite Moderne for Strings – James Adler
6-8. Three Works for James Adler – Kevin Cummings
9. Psalm for Michael – James Adler
10. Six Little Variations on Nöel Ancien – James Adler
11-14. Clarinet Sonata – Paul Turok
15-16. from Three Postcards for Piano – Seth Bedford
17. Twisted Tango – James Adler
18-20. 3 Introspections – James Adler