Floating Through Time
Through Broken Time Jennifer Grim, flute. Michael Sheppard, piano. New Focus Recordings FCR 346 Total Time: 65:27 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
In this new release of music for flute, listeners have an opportunity to explore works by composers who are part of the musical aesthetic of Afro-Modernism as well as with postminimalism. The former is a merging of concert music with the experience of African American and Afro-Latino culture. Musical expressions from their own experience merge with the experiences that address socio-political issues, anti-colonialism, and globalism. The result is a more fluid blend of cultural interactions that merge together in the evolving artistic world developing today.
Flautist Jennifer Grim will be familiar to those who saw here with the Zephyros Winds and New York Chamber Soloists, but she has been a guest at numerous festivals and ensembles. She has a quite beautiful, smooth tonal quality to her sound that is quite beguiling. The release is an interesting blend of seven contemporary works, three of which are for unaccompanied flute. For the rest she is joined by pianist Michael Sheppard.
Alma (2009) by Tania Leon is an engaging piece that entices one in with its pensive beginning before shifting into some equally interesting rhythmic ideas inspired by Cuban music. These have their own unique groove which is enhanced by extended harmony in the accompaniment. Two works by David Sanford are also featured. The first of these is Klatka Still (2006-2007) which creates a focused idea that circles about and then seems to fly out of control in a kaleidoscope of sound. The other, Offertory (2021), was commissioned by Grim. It closes off the album with this piece that takes its musical inspiration from extended jazz improvisations by performers John Coltrane and Dave Liebman. The sense of spontaneity is captured well in this interesting and often quite energetic work.
The three unaccompanied works are fascinating in their own right. The oldest is a piece by Alvin Singleton from 1971. Argoru III is from an era of composers exploring music without additional accompaniment. It is a piece that allows for exploration of the timbres aof the instrument while staying close to specific harmonic outlines that help provide structure in the piece. Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen for 12 flutes (2021) is a Reich-like piece of rapid arpeggios and an flurry of sounds and ideas in a mesmerizing swirl of sound. There are some interesting breathing sounds and techniques that create additional variety and color in a work that pops out in this collection.
Alison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland (2018) is one of two pieces on the collection that focus on historical or social events as a catalyst for the music’s shape. In this case, she is exploring natural disasters and the Syrian Civil War. A tonal anchoring helps provide the foundation that reflects on these modern trials and tribulations. The bent pitches and slides feel like distant echoes of folk musics and the breathy quality shifts into colorful outlines and skittering. The other piece with this same aesthetic thrust if Valerie Coleman’s Wish Sonatine (2015). Here the music takes its inspiration from a poem by the British-Guyanese poet Fred D’Aguiar depicting the Middle Passage of the slave trade. The sense of waves is one aspect of this quite evocative work that captures the tumult both on the sea and the violence within the ship. It is in some of its more lyrical, almost wistful moments, where the piece pulls at the heart.
Grim is certainly an engaging performer and this comes through in these carefully-selected works that require a great deal of intense focus and stamina as well as technique. The music itself is all quite engaging and the sequencing of works quite well to create a diverse array of music that might not appear to be possible within the repertoire here. Yet, each of the composer’s have unique compositional approaches that allow them to stand out on their own throughout. Sheppard also proves to be an excellent companion through these journeys with crisp and clean articulation in rapid passage work and a great sense of timing for when sustained harmonic ideas are needed.
Through Broken Time is an excellent collection of contemporary works for flute performed with great passion and commitment that shines throughout the album.