Stephen Barber Comes to Earth
Earth Eric Huebner, piano New Focus Recordings FCR 340 Total Time: 40:00 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Pianist Eric Huebner pulls together a collection of thirteen piano miniatures from West Texas composer, Stephen Barber. Barber was a bit of a prodigy having collaborated with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Christopher Cross as a teenager. His band, The Electromagnets, opened for the Bongo Fury show featuring Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart in Austin in 1975! He would go on to study composition and orchestration with John Corigliano and has worked with a host of pop music legends.
The pieces on the album are an assortment of snapshots inspired by Barber’s own life events: nature (“Yellow Warbler”; “Fireflies”; “Earth”), personal travels (“Through A Dog Star Gaze Into Sirius”; “Twilight in Tahiti”; “Circo Massimo”; “Electra 88”), literature (“Opium-White Fur”), art (“In Garden Bright”; “Falling Water”), music (“Stop”—Wayne Shorter; “Easter”—Bach), or even politics (“Slow Dripping Beast”). The music tends toward a sort of advanced harmonic support for melodic lines that float across the texture. There is a semi-improvisational feel with rich, chordal moments helping provide structural signposts along the way. The descriptive titles provide a fine guide for the listener to these works that blend the jazz world with moments that are also a bit impressionistic in quality. The accessible language makes for the entry point to Barber’s various musings. Some of the central works tend to be a but more abstract, but no less compelling. The dissonant moments are often couched within some tonal reference points which just adds to their dramatic shape. Each piece feels well-sequenced to provide a nice general flow to the album of contrast with moments of reflection giving way to more energetic segments.
Huebner’s performance is a great blend of virtuosic skill and musical phrasing that helps to further communicate Barber’s ideas well to the listener. It is captured in a warm sound that allows for enhancement of the articulation and dynamic range Huebner demonstrates in his performances. The album makes for an amiable listen of often engaging brief pieces. One can hear echoes of Americana piano writing of the likes of Bolcom especially. Earth is a compelling collection of piano miniatures well-performed in this engaging new release.