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ZAE MUNN: “They Were Mysterious Guests” = Timothy McAllister, sax/ ensemble – Navona

ZAE MUNN: “They Were Mysterious Guests” = Broken Tulip; They Were Mysterious Guests, Hard to Capture; Disclosure; The Old Songs; Cascade; Music: A Love Story; Hanging Onto the Vine – Timothy McAllister, saxophone/ ensemble – Navona NV5991 [Distr. by Naxos], (3/10/15), 58:33 ***:

Zae Munn is Professor of Music at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana where she teaches theory, composition, digital media in music, and orchestration/arranging.  She is the the Director and Resident Composer of the Summer Resident Composer’s Intensive. Her DMA and MM degrees in composition are from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and her BM in composition is from Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University. Born in 1953, Munn’s early musical training was as a cellist, with additional studies in piano, voice, and conducting.

This composer is a new and somewhat unusual find for me. She has apparently written often for saxophone, drawing the attention of virtuoso Tim McAllister. Each one of the ensemble works here features the alto saxophone in a very prominent role; the one exception being the closing Hanging Onto the Vine, a sax quartet.

McAllister’s playing is always superb and he has a real gift for the unusual and brings artistry to everything he plays. A lot of the music here and even the fairly odd mixtures of instruments make for some unusual listening. The opening work Broken Tulip is quirky to be sure with a vaguely atonal palate and a somewhat jazzy texture while some truly unusual timbres permeate the mix.

I did genuinely enjoy the three movement They Were Mysterious Guests, Hard To Capture (a phenomenally surreal title, by the way) This is basically a three-movement work for alto saxophone and piano that seems to evoke a slightly dysfunctional, noir mood and quite successfully. The second movement title is also worthy of mention: If Enough Hosts Weep, The All Night Dance Ceremony is Considered a Success. You can’t beat that!

The other piece that caught my attention for its emotional impact and somewhat eery feel is The Old Songs, a Scena for Soprano and Three Instruments. The text here is taken from “The Old Songs” a poem written by the composer’s brother.  The textures here are exotic with alto sax, clarinet and bass playing against the vocal line that occasionally sounds quite meandering and chromatic.

I also enjoyed the quartet work Hanging Onto The Vine. This is a truly odd work that stays in a vague, ‘pseduo-atonal’ world while its pulses forward with some jazzy rhythms and a very mysterious “unresolved” sound.

I did not ‘mind’ the other works here. The four described are the ones, for me, that left the strongest impression. I would say that this album appeals most to saxophone players and enthusiasts – as anything with Tim McAllister ought to. I do think it is also important to point out that Zae Munn’s music is kind of a “wild ride.”  It might not appeal to casual listeners but for someone who wants a very fresh, very unusual listening experience, this could be your thing!

—Daniel Coombs

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