Fernando Benadon: delight/delirium

, composer


Composer Fernando Benadon’s background as an improviser manifests itself in fascinating ways on his new release delight/delirium. In varying ways, Benadon explores and attempts to replicate the magical phenomenon of spontaneous composition through different approaches to notating and capturing improvised material.


Fernando Benadon has a rich background as a composer, saxophonist, improviser, and scholar. He brings this experience to his most recent recording project, delight/delirium, particularly to the final two tracks, Búgi Wúgi and Rhythmensional, both of which engage with the boundaries between improvised and notated music in interesting ways. For Rhythmensional, Benadon recorded an improvised drum solo by acclaimed Cuban jazz drummer and composer, Dafnis Prieto. Benadon then composed a through composed piece to be performed along with the recording of Prieto’s solo — essentially turning Prieto’s improvisation into fixed media. As a scholar, Benadon has had an enduring interest in the field of “microtimings” (for a very different look at “microtimings”, see Richard Beaudoin’s New Focus release of the same name, FCR125 using the microscopic temporal inflections of iconic recordings as the basis for new composition), which investigates the aspects of time in a performer’s performance that go beyond notation, particularly as they relate to different styles. By recording Prieto and then placing his playing at the foundational level of the piece, in a sense, Benadon has frozen the microtimings in the improvisation while guaranteeing micro-variation in the rhythmic realization of the score by the live performers playing along with Prieto’s track. Búgi Wúgi consciously goes in the opposite direction, achieving the looseness of early jazz masters Earl Hines and Bubber Miley and the post-modern sensibility of contemporary experimental improvisers like Ethan Iverson and Vijay Iyer by keeping the left hand steady and meticulously notating improvised “sounding” material in the right hand. Cotxes in inspired by the visual imagery of Barcelona, as this unique quartet of sax, vibes, harp, and piano spin out lush, impressionistic harmonies through notated lines that again sound improvised. delight/delirium opens with material that perhaps could be improvised, but reveals itself clearly as a fully through composed piece when we hear tightly coordinated unisons between clarinet and piano near the one minute mark. Nevertheless, the work often falls forward like an improvisation, with a sense of structure that is less oriented towards managed development of material than it is towards a journey whose changes of directions are suggested each moment anew. Cosmicomics is the odd man out aesthetically on the recording, not only because it is the only large ensemble work, but also because it inhabits a more conventionally composerly sound world. The work ebbs and flows between the gently pulsating, impressionistic chords of the opening and more explosive moments that bristle with orchestral color. Cosmicomics is a more direct look at Benadon’s material palette apart from his engagement with exploring the subtle boundaries between improvised and notated music.

Track 1,2,4,5 recorded at American University
Track 3 recorded at University of Illinois
Track 5 recorded at Systems Two

Produced with support from the Guggenheim Foundation and the American University’s College of Arts and Sciences

Mix: Rogerio Weis Naressi
Design: Yana Sakellion
Mastering: Dan Nichols

Fernando Benadon

Fernando Benadon grew up in Buenos Aires, then moved to Boston to study arranging and saxophone performance at the Berklee College of Music. He then spent four years in Los Angeles and New York before heading to the Bay Area for a Ph.D. in composition at UC Berkeley. While in grad school, he lived in Istanbul for one year (teaching at ITÜ MIAM), followed by two years studying in Paris as a recipient of UC Berkeley's Ladd Prize. He is now on the faculty at American University in Washington DC. Benadon was awarded the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship and has been selected for residencies at Copland House, Tanglewood, and Voix Nouvelles, Fondation Royaumont. Ensembles that have performed his music include New York New Music Ensemble, Continuum Ensemble, Emyprean Ensemble, and Les Jeunes Solistes. He has released recordings on the Innova and Albany labels.

Noah Getz

Noah Getz is a jazz and classical saxophonist based in Washington, DC. Hailed as a “highly skillful and an even more highly adventurous player” (Washington City Paper) with “virtuosity, sensitivity, and beauty of tone” (Fanfare), Noah Getz has performed and lectured worldwide, including appearances at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Carnegie Hall, Zilkha Hall, The Phillips Collection and the 2012 Polish Woodwind Festival in Wolsztyn, Poland.

Nobue Matsuoka

Nobue Matsuoka’s career includes performances with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Orleans Opera, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan. In 2003, Gambit Weekly of New Orleans honored her performance “Sticks and Strings II” with the Tribute to the Classical Arts Award for Best Chamber Performance.

Jacqueline Pollauf

Jacqueline Pollauf, harpist, praised for playing with “transcendent ability” (The Sybaritic Singer), and a “steady and most satisfying elegance” (The Toledo Blade),made her solo debut at age sixteen with the Perrysburg Symphony Orchestra, and has since performed at Carnegie Hall and at the Eleventh World Harp Congress in Vancouver, Canada. Audiences are delighted by the variety of sounds found in Jacqueline’s sensitive playing.

Jeffrey Chappell

Jeffrey Chappell has performed throughout the United States and in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. He has appeared in recitals, in chamber music, and as concerto soloist with major symphony orchestras including those of Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis, and Oakland, and over forty times with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra including concerts at Carnegie Hall and Wolf Trap Park.

Stephanie Ray

Stephanie Ray is the Flautist and Chamber Music Director for the Lunar Ensemble. Stephanie regularly performs with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Maryland Symphony, and D.C.’s Great Noise Ensemble.

Gleb Kanasevich

Described as a "prodigy" by the Maryland press and “extraordinary… a man of many talents” by the New Haven Independent, Belarus-born virtuoso clarinetist/composer Gleb Kanasevich has performed as a soloist with several ensembles, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Belarus National Philharmonic, Peabody Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Concerto Orchestra.

John Wilson

American pianist John Wilson currently serves as a piano fellow for the New World Symphony in Miami, Florida, and is Principal Keyboard of the Reading Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Wilson has performed as a soloist with the New World Symphony, New Amsterdam Symphony, and Concert Artists of Baltimore. An active chamber musician, he has peformed in recital with Joshua Bell, and many others.

Illinois Modern Ensemble

The Illinois Modern Ensemble, directed by Dr. Stephen Taylor, comprises students dedicated to the performance of contemporary and experimental music. Its repertoire in recent seasons includes works by leading figures such as Steve Reich, Georg Friedrich Haas, and Augusta Read Thomas, as well as a constant stream of new works by student and faculty composers, often featuring technology. The IME also presents the winners of the annual Salvatore Martirano Composition Award, an international contest that draws over 200 applications each year.

Dafnis Prieto

[Performer Bio]

From Cuba, Dafnis Prieto’s revolutionary drumming techniques and compositions had a powerful impact on the Latin and Jazz music scene, nationally and internationally. Various awards include “2011 MacArthur Fellowship Award”, “Up & Coming Musician of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association in 2006, a Grammy Award Nomination for ”Absolute Quintet” as Best Latin Jazz Album, and a Latin Grammy Nomination for “Best New Artist” in 2007. Since his arrival to New York in 1999, Dafnis has worked in bands led by Henry Threadgill, Steve Coleman, Eddie Palmieri, Chico and Arturo O’Farrill, Dave Samuels & The Caribbean Jazz Project, Jane Bunnett, D.D. Jackson, Edward Simon, Michel Camilo, Chucho Valdez, Bebo Valdez, Roy Hargrove, Don Byron and Andrew Hill, among others.

[Composer Bio]

Dafnis Prieto (b. 1974) was born in Santa Clara, Cuba where he studied percussion and guitar. As a teenager, he studied at the National School of Music in Havana, concentrating on classical and Afro-Cuban music. After arriving in New York City in 1999, he became one of the most sought after jazz drummers in the United States. A 2011 MacArthur Fellow, he has been teaching at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami since 2015.

Rane Moore

Clarinetist Rane Moore is well-regarded for her thoughtful, provocative interpretations of standard and cutting-edge contemporary repertoire. Fiercely devoted to the new music communities of the East Coast and beyond, Moore is a founding member of the New York based Talea Ensemble which regularly gives premieres of new works at major venues and festivals around the world. Ms. Moore has joined the award winning wind quintet, The City of Tomorrow, for the upcoming season, and is also a member Boston’s Callithumpian Consort and Sound Icon.

Jacqueline Dorr

Violist Jaclyn Dorr completed a Master of Music degree in viola performance and violin/viola pedagogy at the Peabody Conservatory, where she was teaching assistant to Victoria Chiang. Ms. Dorr was first prize winner of the 2009 Gee Viola Competition, a recipient of the Richard Franko Goldman prize in performance and a fellowship violist at the Aspen Music Festival. Ms. Dorr has had the privilege of working with distinguished violists from around the world, including Nobuko Imai, Kim Kashkashian, Masao Kawasaki, Roberto Diaz, Heidi Castleman, Atar Arad, Mischa Amory, Jutta Puchhamer-Sedillo, Stephen Wyrczynski, among others.

19 Apr, 2021

New Focus featured in Print and podcast

New Focus has been featured recently in some great contexts: Vanessa Ague wrote a label profile for Bandcamp Daily https://daily.bandcamp.com/label-profile/new-focus-recordings-label-profile?utm_source=notification Seth Boustead featured New Focus on two episodes of his Relevant Tones …

Read More



The Art Music Lounge

Fernando Benadon is a composer, saxophonist and improvisor who oversees the music theory & composition program in the Department of Performing Arts at American University in Washington. He enjoys mixing the two types of music, so of course a CD like this is right up my alley (see my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond). Listening to it, I found that Benadon doesn’t always use improvisation or jazz rhythms in his music, but rather explores a number of different styles for different types of pieces.

The opener, Cotxes, for instance, is an impressionistic piece that sort of meanders along for a bit over nine minutes, letting the music more or less explore its own sound and note-choices. Noah Getz is a classically-trained tenor saxist whose tone is pur and clinical, thus Benadon has constructed a sort of neo-classical musical maze around his insrtrument with three percussion instruments. The music is more coloristic than constructed, although Benadon does indeed develop his theme, slowly but surely, as the piece proceeds.

By contrast, Delight/Delirium mixes a piano with two wind players in a swirling melange of sound. Once again, however, there is his unusual use of space, occasionally pausing or even stopping the music for a second or two before resuming its pace. Eventually the piano takes over the rhythmic pulse, but the winds pull it around, changing both pace and meter, increasing and decreasing apparently at whim, until suddenly the music jumps into a Latin rhythm with an irregular meter. The clarinet then assumes the lead position while the flute swirls around it, the piano interjecting single note sprinkles in the right hand before they make another attempt (not altogether successful!) to come together again. Eventually the piano plays some rumbling notes before the winds push forward to a double-time finale.

Cosmicomics is the one piece on this disc that uses a full-sized orchestra, the Illinois Modern Ensemble, but even here Benadon leaves a lot of space in his scoring so that it takes a while for the listener to realize that he or she is listening to such a large group. I also noticed that, even here. Benadon generally favors high sonorities; lower instruments such as rumbling basses are hears, but they act more as a grounding for the high-lying string and wind figures. This is even true when, at the 2:45 mark, he adds some low winds and brass to the basses to underscore a solo trumpet playing long lines above them. When the full orchestra is heard, which is infrequently, the bright sonorities again dominate the texture. In an odd sort of way, it struck me that Benadon might possibly have been trying to simulate the sounds one can create with a synthesizer using natural instruments. I may be wrong, but that at least was my impression. After a dead stop at 5:43 (Benadon uses complete stops as other composers use loud climaxes), the music proceeds with the full band, eventually leading into an exquisite, and tonal, violin solo. This then fades away, as does the ensemble, so that soft percussion sounds (possibly a piano, playing very softly) can be heard, leading into harp and viola solos before the whole ensemble returns, this time with a crushed chord as if to offset the lyricism of the top line. This clash of sounds continues as the piece moves towards its conclusion.

Búgi Wúgi is a piano solo and quite obviously a tongue-in-cheek title, although the rhythm is not a strict eight-to-the-bar but rather an asymmetrical, quasi-clumsy-sounding figure over which the pianist develops and improvises various right-hand figures. At times the clashing rhythms become so complex that one wonders how pianist Ivsn Ilic is able to keep his place; this is not easy music to play or listen to! The sales sheet accompanying this release suggests that the music incorporates the looseness of Earl Hines, and I can hear a tiny bit of that, but even a piano master like Hines might have gotten lost in this rhythmic maze. (The sales sheet also states that trumpeter Bubber Miley was an “early jazz piano master,” evidently a typo.)

In the concluding piece, Rhythmensional, Benadon started out by recording Cuban jazz drummer Dafnis Prieto in an extended solo, then wrote a thorough-composed piece to be played above Prieto’s improvisations. This almost sounds as if it was fun for Benadon to write; at least, there is is a great deal of playfulness in the composition, here using irregular rhythms and bitonal harmonies in a way that catches the ear and makes you smile. Interestingly, Prieto sounds as if he is playing electronic drums, so “tight” and unresonant is the sound. Despite the fact that only the drum solo is truly improvised, several of the figures played by the small band sound improvised as well, eventually reaching a fevered pitch that resembles a fairly heady jam session. The one difference is that the music doesn’t really swing; but, as I pointed out in my book, this is often a handicap among classically-trained musicians when they try to play jazz. They may be virtuosi; they may know exactly what they want to do; but executing the music with the rhythmic looseness of jazz doesn’t always come easy. A perfect example here is the collective ensemble played around the 4:30 mark. Prieto is swinging, and thus is able to help the music along a bit, but the other instruments—though clearly virtuosic—can’t quite get in the groove. But of course, this isn’t really a jazz piece, so it can be enjoyed on its own merits, which are considerable. At the 6:15 mark, Prieto is swinging so hard that the others almost come close to his feeling for rhythm. Near the end, a sort of machine-like rhythm becomes dominant, driving all concerned towards a riotous conclusion. All in all, a fascinating experiment.

This isn’t the kind of music that will automatically appeal to all classical lovers, and perhaps this is even more true for jazz lovers, but if you are willing to expand your mind a bit in either direction and give the music a fair hearing, I think they will be excited and delighted by what is on this recording. I know I was!

—© 3.3.2017 Lynn René Bayley


Gapplegate Classical Modern Music

Fernando Benadon on Delight/Delirium (New Focus Recordings 179) constructs robust chamber works that are firmly in the new music camp but also have jazz/improvisational elements. Each piece is intricately and satisfyingly built out of finely conceived elements.

The largest ensemble at play occurs on "Cosmicomics" (2013) a brightly shimmering work performed by the Illinois Modern Ensemble as conducted by Stephen Andrew Taylor. As of many works here it is of literary inspiration, depicting two scenes from Calvino's tale of the same name. It has like the other works in this anthology an original feel derived from careful, effective scoring, here for the amassed winds and strings. There are modern, tonally advanced intersections, clusters and expressively wrought foreground elements that altogether create a multidimensional matrix.

The works for smaller groups have a special presence as well whether it is a matter of the early-jazz/new music inflected "Bugi Wugi" (2007) for solo piano or the other small-scale works I am about to describe. "Corxes" (2013) represents a whirl in a car through Barcelona on an early spring afternoon. A feeling of time and space in motion is heightened by rhythmically charged passages for sax, vibes, harp and piano.

"Delight/Delirium" (2016) again makes use of a literary theme, this time from Neil Gaimon's Sandman series, to create a lively matrix of movement for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, harp and piano.

"Rhythmensional" (2015) builds around a jazz-rock drum solo recorded as an improvisation by Dafnis Preito. Benadon takes that initial track and scores very dynamic parts for bass clarinet, viola, vibes and piano. A music of very great rhythmic vitality results, a one-of-a-kind intersection led by the complex drumming and turned into a marvelously intentional new music with perhaps only Frank Zappa as forbearer of this stylistic complex.

It is a fitting conclusion for what is an extraordinarily captivating program. Benadon knows what he is after and realizes it in five movingly fresh works. It is one of the best sort of collisions of jazz-rock influence and new chamber music I have heard in the past decade.

And so I do not hesitate to recommend this to you without reservation.

— Grego Edwards, Gapplegate Classical Modern Music, 5.9.2017




“delight/delirium”- it’s a new album from Fernando Benadon. Composer, improviser, saxophonist and teacher Fernando Benadon puts different styles of music in his compositions. The new album had been recorded live in different places and played by various musicians. Music of Fernando Benadon combines together traditional jazz, some of avant-garde jazz elements, modern classical music and free improvisations. Composer pays high attention to different – expressive, active and effective – sound. His music also is very dynamic and full of stylistic waves and contrasts. Album had been released this year by “New Focus Recordings”.

Album has 5 compositions. All of them are different from each other. From small piano works based on traditional jazz styles to large ensemble works which are similar to great avant-jazz improvisers. This music is full of high variety of music elements, dynamics, has professional and colorful instrumentation. Soft piano and saxophone solos or duets, static rhytmic and many virtuosic elements are the basics of “Cobex” and “delight/delirium”. These two compositions sounds calmly, softly and static. Other three compositions “Cosmicomics”, “Bugi Wugi” and “Rhytmensional” are dedicated for large ensembles. “Cosmicomics” is based on post-modern music traditions and elements. It’s a composition for large ensemble, have interesting, modern and colorful orchestration and harmony, many strange timbres and sounds. Post-modernism and neoromantism elements combine together in this composition. “Bugi Wugi” is absolutely different from “Cosmicomics”. It’s based on boogie – woogie and other traditional jazz styles. Static rhytmic, expressive piano solos, simple harmony and virtuosic elements – that’s the basic of this composition. Composition sounds delightful, expressive and traditional. The final composition “Rhytmensional” is a typical work for experimental jazz ensemble. Free, colorful, powerful and wild collective improvisation has very interesting and evocative sound. Creative and rigorous solos of the musicians, dynamic rhytmic, expressive melodies full of virtuosic elements and modern musical expressions, strange timbres and sound experiments. All these elements make this composition interesting, free and conceptual composition based on avant-jazz elements. So this album is like a retrospective which each composition is dedicated for different styles and genres of music and all compositions of the album have intersting, expressive and modern sound. — avantscena, 5.11.2017

Related Albums