Thursday, June 26, 2014

PARMA Takes Futura: The Carl Vollrath Sessions

As something of a DIY producer myself (though having worked primarily with mixers not exceeding four inputs), I walked in to the studio at Futura Productions expecting to be impressed, and I was not disappointed. This is truly a state-of-the-art facility with more knobs and wires than I would know what to do with. The recording space is something to marvel at in itself, having at times boasted upwards of 60 musicians at once; in this instance, there were only two: clarinetist  Michael Norsworthy and pianist Yoko Hagino, but their performances filled out the room nonetheless. Check out fellow A&R rep Chris Robinson’s previous post which includes a nice photo of the facilities:

If you haven't heard of Alabama-based composer Carl Vollrath, I’d highly suggest plugging his name into your favorite streaming audio service and taking a listen; here's a link to his 2008 release Jack's Fat Cat on Spotify: As I heard Michael express during the sessions, it’s nice to hear modern music that sounds really conventionally beautiful; even as an avid appreciator of the atonal and the avant-garde, I can certainly see where he was coming from, especially with music as well-crafted and emotionally-charged as Carl's.

Thanks to our artist coordinator Derek Thibault, I was able to follow along with scores on my laptop as Michael and Yoko superbly performed through section after section of Carl’s works, usually three takes at a time; Carl was amazed at how much attention they were putting into every note and phrase of his work. It was an enlightening experience to sit and listen as, from take to take, the interpretation of the musicians began to emerge, and the music developed into something new. One piece in which I thought this process was especially pronounced was called "Copeland's Coda" - many of the pieces recorded for this album have similar titles inspired by composers of the past.

Carl seemed thoroughly impressed by these sessions, commenting on more than one occasion that the recording hall was perfect for this sort of music. He was equally impressed with Futura's engineer John Weston and PARMA's lead producer Andy Happel; he expressed he had never worked with someone like Andy before who was so adept at addressing the smallest details, being also an avid musician himself.

(from left to right: John, Andy, Carl, Yoko, Mike)

Carl later mentioned that Michael Norsworthy’s technique and performance reminded him very much of Grammy-winner Richard Stoltzman, who had recorded some of his music previously (and whom PARMA has worked with on multiple releases). Michael replied that Stoltzman was the very reason he took up the clarinet, and that he had been fortunate enough to have studied with Richard personally. Yoko was equally proficient, and was acclaimed as the silent hero of the day as she played through take after take with an incredible depth of expression and accuracy.

All in all, this was a truly wonderful experience; it’s not every day one gets to see performers of this magnitude taking on new music of this caliber and collaborating with the composer to create a version of music all its own. It’s mind-boggling how much practice and preparation goes into such a thing, both in performance and composition, not only for these specific works in particular, but also for all the hours of training and dedication to the craft of music; when it all comes together, it can be a truly humbling and inspiring experience.

Look out for this finished release sometime in early 2015; you’ll be glad you did.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Studio Update: Eight Strings & a Whistle

Ina Litera, Matt Goeke, Suzanne Gilchrest
Following their performance last month at the Queens New Music Festival, Eight Strings & a Whistle went into the Peter Karl Studios in Brooklyn, NY to begin recording the music for what will turn into their debut with PARMA Recordings. The trio's repertoire features a unique combination of works from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern periods, as well as pieces composed expressly for them.

Eight Strings & a Whistle are cellist Matt Goeke, violist Ina Litera, and flutist Suzanne Gilchrest, having first met as members of the Galatea Ensemble based in New York. In 1998 the trio was formed and they have been very active since their founding, including winning the Artists International Special Presentation Award, giving their critically acclaimed New York debut at Merkin Concert Hall in May, 2003, and more recently, performing on TULPE, a recording of music by Sarah Davol and GRAMMY-nominated artist Dawn Avery, released on Okenti Records in January, 2008.

Below are some photos from their recent session with engineer Peter Karl and producer John Frisch. The trio will be back in the studio on July 10th. Stay tuned for more news and updates from Eight Strings & a Whistle.

Peter Karl, Suzanne Gilchrest, Matt Goeke, Ina Litera, and John Frisch
Suzanne, John and Matt

Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Year, New Tunes

What were you doing a year ago? Where were you? Who were you?

These questions might seem a little overly philosophical or maybe a tad cliche, but sometimes they're harder to answer than they should be, aren't they?

For me, the surest sign of who I was and what I was doing at any point in my life is the music I was listening to. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but every time I listen to Big Sir's "Lisa's Theme," I flash back to the first time I heard it - almost a year ago to the day, jet-lagged out of my mind on a 13-hour plane ride from Qatar to New York after six months a cruise ship (a story for another day).

Of course, musical tastes tend to change over time. In most cases, when you start listening to new music, you don't just throw away your stack of old CDs and start a new one - you expand your collection as your palette becomes more diverse. While there's still a special place in my heart for the angsty, detuned and needlessly profane music that blasted through my headphones in 7th and 8th grade, it's not on my playlists today, but it's in my library somewhere (believe it or not, some of that stuff had some respectable technical substance).

As a sort of audible time capsule, I've taken a few of my most favored discoveries over the last year from the pop music universe and programmed them in a Spotify playlist. Alongside these tunes I've added a handful of selections from the PARMA catalog that I was introduced to when I started here in January. Among the ranks of some of PARMA's heavy hitters are a number of solid performances by recent Grammy victors Snarky Puppy and Daft Punk, as well as some just-as-bad (as in Jules Winnfield "bad") soulful stylings of Gretchen Parlato and Lake Street Dive.

From the opening crash of Alejandro Rutty's dynamic tour-de-force "The Conscious Sleepwalker Loops" to the final sustains of John Carollo's hauntingly beautiful "Nothing Shall Come Of This", I hope this music hits you like it hit me and sticks with you for the next twelve months, at least.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June Releases on Navona, Ravello, and Big Round

Sergio Cervetti

Wall Street. Salvador Dali. Gustav Mahler. Some of the sources of inspiration for composer Sergio Cervetti on his fourth solo Navona release, UNBRIDLED. Spanning over forty years of his career, the works represent Cervetti's continued aesthetic of combining traditional and postmodern techniques and instrumentation. 

The title track is a response to the crisis of the American financial institutions of the last few years. For Mémoires du Paradis, Cervetti's vision comes from five Salvador Dali paintings that portray fragmentary scenes from Milton's Paradise Lost. First premiered in 1973, ...from the earth... treats a five-note passage from Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with minimalist techniques, extrapolating the notes into new melodies and drawing out harmonic structures for several minutes. A review from the now defunct High Fidelity magazine hailed ...from the earth... as "a straightforward and touching composition, and obviously the work of a gifted creator." Read More

Ruud Van Eeten 

On his debut release on Navona Records, INNER MUSIC, composer Ruud van Eeten presents three works that highlight the refinement and control evident in his compositional style. Throughout the four movements of Piano Quintet No. 1, the composer adds no excess; every note has a role. Yet the piece exudes emotion, particularly the second movement which develops a deep sense of longing. Punctus Einz, based on Bach's The Art of Fugue, builds layers of textures, ranging from punctuated rhythms to fluid melodic lines, which are heightened by the timbres of the saxophone quartet. Jhero pulls inspiration from a painting by the famous Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, representing three stages from human's divine history: Heaven, the Garden of Earthly Delight, and Hell. Respectively, the first stage is slow, meditative, and brooding; the second is repetitive and sensual; and the third is heavy, accented, and fleeting. Read More

Scott Brickman 

Addressing the man who greatly contributed to the theory of our evolutionary ascent, DEAR DARWIN, the second release on Ravello Records by composer Scott Brickman, explores several themes relating to Charles Darwin's studies and interests including birds, love, world travel, and human boundaries. 

The song-cycle Dear Darwin is set to 26 poems by Kathleen Ellis and arranged as an abecedarium. Many of Ellis' poems discuss observations of nature and human behavior, some proposing questions and others suggesting answers, while Brickman's compositions consider different relationships between the piano and the soprano voice: he places the piano in three different roles in respect to the soprano - as an imitation, as a supplement, and as harmonic support. Read More

Harrington/Loewen Duo

The breadth of musical textures and colors capable of being produced by a piano and saxophone pairing are larger than expected. Turning expectations upside-down, METROPOLIS, the debut release on Ravello Records by the Harrington/Loewen Duo, comprised of saxophonist Allen Harrington and pianist Laura Loewen, highlights the adventurous and unpredictable approach to the two instruments. 

The Harrington/Loewen Duo builds sonic landscapes and structures from their dynamic and often frantic interplay in The Skin of Night while interpreting and responding to conventional and graphic notation such as colors, images, and glyphs throughout the score of Metropolis. In pieces such as Oran, they focus on the elements of intensity, duration, and timbre, creating expressionistic gestures and stark contrasts in mood. Harrington and Loewen showcase their sophisticated skills by way of extended techniques of the piano such as scraping the strings, pizzicato, harmonics, and glissando; and of the saxophone such as flutter-tongue, multiphonics, and bisbigliando (trilling between two timbres). Read More

Jane Solose

In 2008 PARMA Recordings acquired Capstone Records, the highly respected New York-based classical label founded by composer Richard Brooks in 1986, with the intent of shepherding the company and its music into the digital era. This product, originally released on Capstone and now presented by PARMA's Ravello Records imprint, is one of a series of re-releases from the catalog called THE CAPSTONE COLLECTION.

This solo piano album featuring Canadian pianist Jane Solose, presents works by American composers George Gershwin, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Amy Beach, Chen Yi, Deniz Ince, and James Fry. Read More

Jean-Philippe Grégoire 


From Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France to the American jazz players who immigrated to immerse themselves in its vibrant musical scene, Paris has been an epicenter of haute jazz culture. Jean-Philippe Grégoire has been a staple of the Paris jazz scene for many years and on his debut Big Round Records release SOUNDS FROM THE DELTA the guitarist/composer presents a refined and inspired hybrid of French and American jazz styles. 

Grégoire's works show a diverse compositional style, ranging from driving and syncopated rhythmic structures to smooth and swaying melodic textures. But even the slower-tempo pieces peak with high-energy improvisations, pulling influences from his rock, blues, and classical roots which combine to form a singular fusion. Read More