The Will To AdornInternational Contemporary Ensemble & George Lewis


George Lewis is a modern musical polymath, in the truest sense of the word. The Will To Adorn chronicles his fruitful relationship with the International Contemporary Ensemble, with works written for ICE as well as two of his seminal open-form scores.


George Lewis is a modern musical polymath, in the truest sense of the word. As the legendary trombonist and pioneering member of the Chicago based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Lewis was a driving force in one of the most important movements in improvised music in the last decades of the 20th century. His work with interactive computer software has transformed the fields of electro-acoustic music and virtual instruments. He has had an equally large impact on the academic community, both through his publications and his mentoring of student composers and performers alike. Lewis’s work as a composer fuses the many facets of his musicianship together, and his collaboration with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) documented here on this recording, gives us an opportunity to see the wide net that he casts. The recording opens with the title track, a boisterous and colorful ensemble work that is inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s 1934 essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression.” Hurston’s description of churchgoing folks’ penchant for “decorating a decoration” captivated Lewis, and the piece manifests that exuberance through explosive, embellished lines, glitchy off-kilter grooves, and subtly shaded microtonal chords. Shadowgraph, 5 and Artificial Life 2007 are both examples of Lewis’s open-form scores, in which he strives to facilitate a structured improvisation experience through non-standard notation. Shadowgraph was written for the AACM big band, comprised of a series of symbol instructions, and is among pieces Lewis wrote for what he calls the “creative orchestra.” Artificial Life 2007 was written for the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and seeks to “exteriorize the process of decision-making” inherent in improvised playing through more explicit text instructions. Born Obbligato was written for ICE as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Septet op. 20. Lewis borrows structural and textural ideas from Beethoven’s septet, and also adds percussion to the fourth movement, performed here by virtuoso Steven Schick. The recording closes with Lewis’s performance of T.J. Anderson’s In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray, a writer and colleague of Anderson who often chose the African-American musical tradition as his subject matter and the departure point for inspiration.

Executive Producer: International Contemporary Ensemble
Producer: Jacob Greenberg
Engineer: Jessica Slaven (tracks 4-5, 7-9), Silas Brown (track 1), Ross Karre (track 2-3), Ryan Streber (track 10), George Lewis (track 6)
Recording locations: Miller Theatre 11/22/2011 (track 1), Roulette Intermedium 5/22/2015 (track 2), Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center 1/6/2013 (track 3), Abrons Arts Center 1/13/2015 (tracks 4-5, 7-9), Clark Studio Theatre, Lincoln Center, NY 8/22/2013 (track 7), Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY (track 10)
Design and Layout: Alejandro Acierto

Ensemble Performers:
Track 1: Eric Lamb, flute, piccolo; Nicholas Masterson, oboe; Joshua Rubin, clarinet, bass clarinet; Rebekah Heller, bassoon, contrabassoon; Peter Evans, trumpet; Michael Lormand, trombone; Ross Karre, Nathan Davis, percussion; Daniel Lippel, guitar; Cory Smythe, piano; Erik Carlson, Esther Noh, violins; Katinka Kleijn, cello; Randall Zigler, contrabass; Steven Schick, conductor. 
Track 2: Alice Teyssier, flute; Joshua Rubin, clarinet; David Byrd-Marrow, horn; Ross Karre, percussion; Cory Smythe, piano; Kiku Enomoto, violin; Michael Nicolas, cello
Track 3: Joshua Rubin, clarinet; Rebekah Heller, bassoon; David Byrd-Marrow, horn; David Bowlin, Erik Carlson, violins; Maiya Papach, viola; Katinka Kleijn, cello; Randall Zigler, contrabass
Track 4-6, 8-9: Joshua Rubin, clarinet; Rebekah Heller, bassoon; David Byrd-Marrow, horn; Erik Carlson, violin; Miranda Cuckson, viola; Kivie Cahn-Lipman, cello; Tony Flynt, bass
Track 7: Joshua Rubin, clarinet; Rebekah Heller, bassoon; David Byrd-Marrow, horn; David Bowlin, violin; Maiya Papach, viola; Katinka Kleijn, cello; Randall Zigler, bass; Digital spatialization and transformation software by Damon Holzborn; live engineering by Levy Lorenzo

International Contemporary Ensemble

Called “America’s foremost new music group” by The New Yorker, The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) is an artist collective that is transforming the way music is created and experienced. As performer, curator, and educator, ICE explores how new music intersects with communities across the world. The ensemble’s 35 members are featured as soloists, chamber musicians, commissioners, and collaborators with the foremost musical artists of our time. Works by emerging composers have anchored ICE’s programming since its founding in 2001, and the group’s recordings and digital platforms highlight the many voices that weave music’s present. A recipient of the American Music Center’s Trailblazer Award and the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming, ICE was also named the 2014 Musical America Ensemble of the Year. The group currently serves as artists-in-residence at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Mostly Mozart Festival, and previously led a five-year residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. ICE was featured at the Ojai Music Festival from 2015 to 2017, and at recent festivals abroad such as gmem-CNCM-marseille and Vértice at Cultura UNAM, Mexico City. Other performance stages have included the Park Avenue Armory, The Stone, ice floes at Greenland’s Diskotek Sessions, and boats on the Amazon River.

New initiatives include OpenICE, made possible with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which offers free concerts and related programming wherever ICE performs, and enables a working process with composers to unfold in public settings. DigitICE, a free online library of over 350 streaming videos, catalogues the ensemble’s performances. ICE's First Page program is a commissioning consortium that fosters close collaborations between performers, composers, and listeners as new music is developed. EntICE, a side-by-side education program, places ICE musicians within youth orchestras as they premiere new commissioned works together; inaugural EntICE partners include Youth Orchestra Los Angeles and The People's Music School in Chicago. Summer activities include Ensemble Evolution at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, in which young professionals perform with ICE and attend workshops on topics from interpretation to concert production. Yamaha Artist Services New York is the exclusive piano provider for ICE.

George Lewis

George E. Lewis has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, Lewis's work in electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, and notated and improvisative forms is documented on more than 140 recordings. His work has been presented by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Talea Ensemble, Dinosaur Annex, Ensemble Pamplemousse, Wet Ink, Ensemble Erik Satie, Eco Ensemble, and others, with commissions from American Composers Orchestra, International Contemporary Ensemble, Harvestworks, Ensemble Either/Or, Orkestra Futura, Turning Point Ensemble, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad, IRCAM, Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and others. Lewis has served as Ernest Bloch Visiting Professor of Music, University of California, Berkeley; Paul Fromm Composer in Residence, American Academy in Rome; Resident Scholar, Center for Disciplinary Innovation, University of Chicago; and CAC Fitt Artist In Residence, Brown University.

Lewis received the 2012 SEAMUS Award from the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, and his book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press, 2008) received the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s Music in American Culture Award. Lewis is co-editor of the two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016), and his opera Afterword, commissioned by the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in October 2015 and has been performed in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Czech Republic.

Professor Lewis is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A 2015 Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, Lewis has received a MacArthur Fellowship (2002), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), a United States Artists Walker Fellowship (2011), an Alpert Award in the Arts (1999), and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2015, Lewis received the degree of Doctor of Music (DMus, honoris causa) from the University of Edinburgh. He came to Columbia in 2004, having previously taught at the University of California, San Diego, Mills College, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Koninklijke Conservatorium Den Haag, and Simon Fraser University's Contemporary Arts Summer Institute. Lewis studied composition with Muhal Richard Abrams at the AACM School of Music, and trombone with Dean Hey.



Bandcamp Daily

In recent years, New York’s ambitious International Contemporary Ensemble has established that they’re dedicated proponents of the radical music written by George Lewis—one of the world’s greatest improvising trombonists, AACM historian, and pioneer of interactive computer music software. Conservative academic tradition has presented Lewis the composer—along with countless black composers, some of whom come out of jazz and improvised music—with endless obstacles in the pursuit of having his composed music treated with the sobriety and respect it deserves; something on a page to be performed by committed ensembles without the need for the composer to be on stage. ICE has been one of the outfits that work hard to topple those staid structures, and this new album, released by ICE’s own Tundra imprint, is vivid, a convincing argument for Lewis’ place in history.

This composer portrait features work written over a 36-year period, beginning with the 1977 piece “Shadowgraph 5,” the final part in a series of open-ended works for “creative orchestra” without fixed score or a conductor—any number of players can be involved, but they all determine the duration of the piece in real-time, relying on an improvisational consensus to move through the work. Born Obbligato is one of two pieces composed in 2013, and it was “conceived in dialogue with Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20.” The bracing six-movement opus reflects the timbre, polyphony, and structure of that popular masterpiece, but makes no effort to recreate its good cheer, delivering a charged, slashing energy spiked by David Fulmer’s astute conducting. The album concludes with another 2013 piece—this one by T.J. Anderson—”In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray,” a stunning solo trombone piece, played by Lewis, that explores African-American classical tradition with the inescapable air of improvisatory thinking.

- Peter Margasak, 1.25.17, Best of Bandcamp Daily Contemporary Classical January 2017


Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review

Of all the avant jazz artists who have turned to new music composition, trombonist George Lewis is among the most rewarding and successful. He started as a key member of Chicago's black collective AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and then saw greater exposure as the trombonist in Anthony Braxton's breakout small group. He was an important component of many avant jazz ensembles that followed, including his own groups, ended up a professor at Columbia University and is now Vice-Chairman of the music department, where his interest in electronics and experimental new music composition as well as his continued involvement with avant improvisation have found an institutional outlet and ever-increasing recognition.

Some of his vibrant new music compositions are given near ideal performances by the International Contemporary Ensemble on a new CD entitled The Will to Adorn (Tundra New Focus Recordings 005).

This is beautifully contrapuntal new music that preserves the pointillist and timbral liveliness of the best avant jazz ensembles and transposes it all into written works that demand precision and commitment to an expression at once Afro-American as well as international.

"The Will to Adorn" (2011) leads off the set with a putting into musical terms what Zora Neale Hurston named as a primary characteristic of Afro-American expression in a 1934 essay. Dr. Lewis achieves in beautiful ensemble intercomplexities what Hurston described as a "decoration of a decoration"--in nearly infinite spilling over of counterlines on counterlines. ICE brings it all to us in exciting ways.

From there we experience three more chamber works that vary the musical utterances and instrument combinations but stay within a super-variational context. And so we hear and appreciate "Shadowgraph, 5" (1977), "Artificial Life 2007" (2007), and "Born Obbligato" (2013), exciting ventures into the new.

To top off the program George Lewis's unaccompanied trombone has a solo highlight on composer T. J. Anderson's "In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray" (2013), the latter a writer of insight into Afro-Jazz topics. The jazz tradition is encapsulated and celebrated in this short work, which reminds us of course what an excellent artist Lewis is in the instrumental realms.

And so we come to the end of a beautifully composed and executed volume, giving us pause and good reason to consider George Lewis as one of our leading American composers today. Any modernist follower, modern Afro-jazz fan and new music champion should find this music as I did, vital, extraordinary and a beautiful listen.

-- Grego Edwards, 2.27.17, Gapplegate Classical Modern Music Review

Related Albums