Last night at the Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church, Seventh Avenue Performances concluded its 2018–19 season with a recital by the Areon Flutes trio, whose members are Jill Heinke Moen, Kassey Plaha, and Meerenai Shim. The event was a release concert for the trio’s latest album on the Innova label, entitled No Era, which will become available on May 25. The program consisted of commissioned works by three local composers, Danny Clay (“broken birds”), Sahba Aminikia (“Bāde Sabā”), and Ryan Brown (“Get-Go”).
Upon entering the church’s sanctuary, one saw not only the expected three music stands but also a variety of other objects. Looking around the space, one also saw that two music stands had been set up behind the audience area, one near the right rear corner and the other on the left. This arrangement was for Clay’s “broken birds,” which Areon had previously performed in January of 2015, when they gave an Alumni Recital Series concert at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM).
Structured in six short movements, the piece is a study in the dual semantics of “play,” developing a sonorous environment (spatially demarcated) through both musical instruments and sound-producing toys. The effects are often uncanny, particularly during the interplay of the flexible pitches of a slide whistle blending with the flute sounds. This allowed for the creation of beat frequencies, which I would like to assume were intentional. (In the larger physical space of the SFCM Concert Hall, I had wondered if requiring the musicians to move while playing induced a Doppler shift; but the Seventh Avenue sanctuary was considerably smaller in overall space.) Most important is that this music was as engaging the second time around as it had been on “first contact.”
Aminikia’s piece amounted to a soundtrack for a fifteen-minute excerpt from a documentary by Albert Lamorisse commissioned by the Shah of Iran. The images captured panoramic desert landscapes punctuated by movements of animals and wind, historical structures, people from both urban and desert settings, and the move into modernism (ironically, depicted by a nuclear power station). Lamorisse’s style was similar in nature to that of Godfrey Reggio; but Aminikia’s music captured his own distinctive voice, rather than reflecting on Reggio’s filmmaking colleague, Philip Glass. His approach to flute sonorities provided an effective way to contrast the ancient and modern elements of Lamorisse’s film, offering the sort of experience that is likely to evoke new insights on subsequent viewings.
As the title suggests, Brown’s piece was an upbeat lyric with strong connotations of three musicians in an intimate jam session. Indeed, the bouncy quality of the rhythms recalled the rhetoric of Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint;” but, here again, Brown had clearly found his own voice for reflecting on practices that are as old as music-making itself. Furthermore, to the extent that the two previous works on the program had captured different approaches to inquiry, there was a sense of finality and resolution in Brown’s rhetorical approach, if not a veiled reference to the classic punch line, “That’s all, folks!”