Meditations on the Pacific Coast Trail
In their new release on Navona Records (Navona 6421) the Southern California-based group Choral Arts Initiative invites listeners on a modern musical trek on the Pacific Coast Trail. From Wilderness is a new work by one of the ensemble's own, Jeffrey Derus. The piece is musical meditation on a personal journey from Campo, California, to Manning Park, British Columbia, along the Pacific Coast Trail. It is set across over two dozen snapshots.
The piece opens with centering crystal bowl sounds that take inspiration from Eastern religions. It provides a centering moment as we begin the "Journey Into Yourself" which opens the work. The choral music is a lush harmonic setting that has its own ambient qualities with the subtle shifts. A cello line (played by Kevin Mills) adds some forward motion a bit. The bowl tones reflect specific chakras and then we move into separate choral reflections. These move us in soundscapes that are grouped in regional segments as one moves up the trail. The cello segments that appear throughout the work provide a nice aural touch to the pure choral writing here. The style of these moves to explore close intervals in different choral combinations of sound often focusing on extended vocalizations. Sometimes these are repeated in smaller motivic segments which belie a slight minimalist touch--though this is more in the spiritual minimalist school of composers like Lauridsen. As we get further North, Derus provides opportunities for different soloists moving across the different vocal ranges of the ensemble. This provides a further intimacy of personal expression and reflection in these moments.
From Wilderness is a work of subtle beauty that explores dense choral harmonies that move often through both modal and traditional harmonic palettes. The music tends to fall into that pattern and is then used as the backdrop for the guided textual meditations. The integration of the cello provides an entry point for the listener and feels like it represents the joining of the wandering chorus. Emotional shifts are also transferred to this solo instrument that is almost like a personal guide. The chakra segments provide brief aural shifts from the vocal sound and add their own ambient quality enhanced by the recording as well.