April 1, 2009

The enterprising new label BMOP/sound has another winner in their disk of music of clarinetist, composer, and jazz/rock musician Derek Bermel. The four works show his interest in various folk influences (including Bulgarian folk music), jazz and depicting the human voice instrumentally. Dust Dances resulted from a 4-month visit to Northwest Ghana where Bermel learned to play the Dargara gyil, a 14-key xylophone related to the marimba; in this 9-minute work he attempts to turn the symphony orchestra into a gigantic gyil. The 20-minute Thracian Echoes, is a melding of Bulgarian choral songs with rhythmic energy of orchestral music, combining the mournful and the manic. Elixir, the shortest piece on this CD (7:21) was written at the request of John Adams, and is scored for orchestra with two harps and theremin. The major work here is Voices, actually a clarinet concerto that had its premiere in 1998 with the composer as soloist. There are three movements: Id, She Moved Thru the Fair, and Jamm On Toast. It is a wild work, jazzy, and vividly orchestrated—and it must be incredibly difficult to play. This is challenging, worthy music, and the splendid performances have been very well recorded. About eight years ago, Bermel had a brief residency at the American Academy in Rome. One of his works (Spider Love) is included in the recent Bridge Records Americans in Romeset mentioned on this site (REVIEW).
R.E.B. (April 2009)