courtesy of Naxos of America
At the end of last month, innova released its second album of performances by Areon Flutes (following up on their first two albums, which were self-produced). This is the trio of flautists consisting of founding member Kassey Plaha, along with Jill Heinke Moen and Meerenai Shim. The title of the new album is No Era; and it presents three compositions, each by a different composer, all of whom are San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) alumni and are still based in San Francisco. I first encountered the group in January of 2015, when they were part of an Alumni Recital Series concert at SFCM; and I subsequently wrote about their Innova debut album, Thrive, at the end of 2016.
Those who follow this site regularly know that I covered Areon Flutes’ release concert for No Era, which took place a little less than a month ago. As a result I came to this new album with a basic familiarity with the three compositions being presented, Danny Clay’s “broken birds”, Sahba Aminikia’s “Bāde Sabā”, and Ryan Brown’s “Get Go!” Furthermore, I had already encountered “broken birds” at that 2015 recital. Therefore, I should begin by observing that, for two of the compositions on the disc, the concert performance was as much visual and spatial as it was auditory.
The strictly auditory composition is “Get Go!” The advance material from Naxos described the piece as using the flutes as a drum kit, and this is definitely a score that is all about the rhythm. There is a joyous quality to Brown’s ability to unfold the interplay of different rhythmic patterns. For those of my generation, the rhetorical effect is likely to recall Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint.” (I still remember watching Richard Stoltzman playing this in a recital setting, looking for all the world like some sort of New Age Benny Goodman.) Both the score and its performance by Areon are infectiously cheerful; and making “Get Go!” the final selection on the album was definitely a shrewd move.
Clay’s piece requires the performers to play a variety of toys and wine glasses in addition to their respective flutes. This is a case in which visual input guides the mind behind the ear to recognize the “alien” sonorities. However, most listeners are likely to identify most of those sonorities without visual cues. As the result the only element whose absence really signifies in the “choreographic” one. Performance takes place on all sides of the area where the audience is seated, and sometimes the players are in motion. Those spatial effects do not translate well to the recording efforts, but there is more than enough to Clay’s playful rhetoric across his six short movements to compensate for the loss of that one performance factor.
Aminikia’s piece, on the other hand, was conceived as a soundtrack for a fifteen-minute excerpt from a documentary by Albert Lamorisse commissioned by the Shah of Iran. In this case the visual rhetoric is highly significant, particularly since it is reflecting on many aspects of Iranian life that no longer exist. (On the other hand there is also a shot of a nuclear power station that induces an irony that the filmmaker could not have anticipated.) Because Lamorisse’s style tended to remind me of the films by Godfrey Reggio for which Philip Glass provided music, I found myself thinking of how I can now listen to the Glass scores without seeing the films at the same time. From that point of view, I can argue that Aminikia’s music has the same strength to stand on its own with an individuality that no sensitive listener would confuse with Glass.
As a result No Era can be as engaging a listening experience as that of a “multimedia” concert performance. Furthermore, the listener has the luxury of getting to know these three selections individually, rather than as elements of some larger program. The technical work of capturing the sounds from each of the three performers is right up there with each of those player’s technical command of her respective instruments. Given the upbeat rhetoric of all three selections, this album has no trouble leaving one with satisfying listening experiences.