Kickin’ It With the Lands End Ensemble

CMCCD 26819 - cover

KICKIN’ IT 2.0 / HO: Morning Song / Beth Root Sandvoss, cel / Kickin’ It 2.0 / John Lowry, vln; Sandvoss, cel; Susanne Ruberg-Gordon, pno; Ben Reimer, dm / CHARKE: Tree Rings / Lowry, vln; Reimer, marimba / O. DANIEL: STELCO / Reimer, vib; Ruberg-Gordon, pno / LLUGDAR: Don Liborio Avila / Lowry, Sandvoss, Ruberg-Gordon / Centredisques CMCCD 26819

The Land’s End Ensemble returns with this CD. Judging from the front cover of the album, they appear to have grown from a piano trio (with clarinet on a couple of tracks) to a full-fledged band, but don’t be deceived. The guy in the top left corner is artistic director and composer Vincent Ho; the guy standing next to him is conductor Karl Hirzer; and the guy in front with the drum is percussionist Ben Reimer. The liner notes don’t tell you what Hirzer is conducting, but I’d assume it’s the title track because that includes all four musicians.

Ho gets the lion’s share of this disc with two compositions, the opening solo cello piece Morning Song and the closing 20-minute suite, Kickin’ It 2.0. The former is not what you’d expect from something called Morning Song; the music emerges in short, metaphoric phrases that try to be melodic but emerge rather jagged and, at times, with sighs of world-weariness in them. Nonetheless, a rather sweet melody does eventually appear, interrupted by the groans and sighs.

Derek Charke, a Canadian composer new to me, teaches composition at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. His Tree Rings opens very quietly with marimba and sliding portamenti played by violinist John Lowry, and has a quasi-Oriental sound about it. At first it seems as if the music is resisting the opportunity to develop, but have no fear; Charke, like the creator, simply moves in mysterious ways. He also takes his time, including several pauses in the music and a few dead stops. At the 2:48 mark the tempo suddenly increases, with the marimba playing a repeating rhythmic figure while the violin plays somewhat edgy bowed figures. The volume suddenly increases as well; the violin and marimba both become busier, and the music does indeed develop. Eventually we get a fairly lively, albeit bitonal, dance going on between the two instruments which is ten interrupted by a decrease in volume, a slight slowing down in tempo, and the violin playing edgy eighths before the marimba leads him into swirling figures. A very interesting piece! Being an episodic work, Tree Rings moves through a few more phases, one or two of them bordering on minimalism, but Charke is too good a composer to get bogged down in too much repetition.

Omar Daniel, whose work I admired in the earlier Land’s End album, returns here with STELCO, a piece for piano and percussion meant as a sort of paean to Stelco Steel, a Canadian company in Hamilton, Ontario that Daniel grew up listening to (but which was sold to U.S. Steel in 2007). He has a great deal of fun simulating these factory sounds to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada, and specifically Canadian industry. (And yes, there are soft passages in it, too, particularly a lovely sort of “Largo” around the 6:40 mark that eventually accelerates back to happy foundry noises.)

Almost as if to say, “So you want to simulate an industrial plant? I’ll trump you!,” Don Liborio Avilar starts with abrasive clangs and even a siren sound as the piano bangs the lower register ominously. Composer Analia Llugdar, who studied piano and composition at the Cordoba National University in Argentina before moving to Canada, describes this as a “portrait of an old man who lived in Atamisqui, a small town in North Argentina, where the heat, the silence, the asperity of the earth and the air, the desolation, are part of their inhabitants’ lives.” But Dr. Llugdar…surely THIS is where Stelco Steel moved to? And merged with Hellish Demons, Inc.? Personally, I didn’t care for this piece. It’s mostly noise and effects, not music in my view.

Vincent Ho’s Kickin’ It 2.0 is also a loud, somewhat cacophonous piece, but to my ears has real music underneath its wild surface. Ho describes it as “inspired by a number of elements: the art of improvisation, the music of Squarepusher, jazz, gamelan music, Chinese folk music, and the crime novels of James Ellroy.” (Squarepusher? What’s a Squarepusher?) The first movement is pretty wild to say the least, and when one hears this you realize why they needed a conductor to hold it all together. Hey, who knows? Maybe Karl Hirzer is the Squarepusher! In the second movement, “Filigree,” we recede from the sound barrier as tinkling piano figures are played in front of continual string tremolos while the percussionist smashes a few things in the background. Part 3, “Cadenza,” is mostly the piano and percussion, while “Burn” introduces a rock beat (why, oh why?? Do you people really like this shit?) as the music drives, and I do mean drives, to a crashing conclusion.

So there you have it. The Land’s End Ensemble is clearly an outstanding group, but a little more judicious selection of their material would clearly enhance their stock.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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