Flutist Jennifer Grim releases Through Broken Time, a collection of works at the intersection of Afro-Modernism and post-minimalism, by composers Tania León, Alvin Singleton, David Sanford, Valerie Coleman, Allison Loggins-Hull, and Julia Wolfe. Together with pianist Michael Sheppard, Grim performs these multi-dimensional works with characteristic precision, virtuosity, and expressive power.
|Jennifer Grim, flute, Michael Sheppard, piano||7:18|
|Jennifer Grim, flute||5:15|
|03||Oxygen, for 12 flutes|
Oxygen, for 12 flutes
|Jennifer Grim, flutes, piccolos, alto flute & bass flute||15:30|
Klatka StillDavid Sanford
|Jennifer Grim, flute, Michael Sheppard, piano|
|Jennifer Grim, flute, Michael Sheppard, piano||12:09|
|Jennifer Grim, flute, Michael Sheppard, piano|
On Through Broken Time, flutist Jennifer Grim and pianist Michael Sheppard present a program that focuses on Afro-Modernist aesthetics. Composers Alvin Singleton, Tania León, and David Sanford represent an eminent generation of artists who merged influences from various corners of concert music, foregrounding arenas of African-American and Afro-Latin musical cultures, while Valerie Coleman and Allison Loggins-Hull exemplify an interest in more explicitly programmatic sources of inspiration. Julia Wolfe’s post-minimalist Oxygen ties the collection together through its inventive approach to layered composition for one homogenous instrumental timbre.
Tania León’s Alma, which means “soul” in Spanish, opens with freely impressionistic, exploratory material. Improvisational flourishes in both instruments are punctuated by lush seventh and ninth chords that function as phrase exhalations. Leon intensifies the character, introducing more angularity into the flute part, alongside flutter tongue gestures and other embellishing figurations. Eventually, the texture coagulates into a syncopated groove characteristic of Cuban music, with a joyful, energetic melody emerging from the pointillistic tutti accents between the two instruments. A return to the opening pensive material closes the piece.Read More
Alvin Singleton’s Argoru series shares an affinity for comprehensive instrumental exploration with other iconic sets of works for solo performers, such as Berio’s Sequenzas. Written in 1971 while Singleton was a student at Yale, Argoru III unfolds in a rhythmically free context, developing two primary ideas — a mysterious, descending augmented triad, and fleet, ascending scale gestures. Singleton mines both for their rich character potential, and when we hear the opening descending motive return towards the end of the work, it is transposed and in a higher register, an emphatic statement of closure to this soliloquy.
Julia Wolfe’s work for twelve overdubbed flutes, Oxygen, echoes Steve Reich’s well known Counterpoint series in texture, but very much excavates its own territory structurally and developmentally. Unlike Reich’s primarily modular presentation of interlocking Central African inspired rhythmic cells cycling through expansive harmonies, Wolfe’s material evolves dynamically. Syncopations in the internal voices change the rhythmic profile of a passage, while long limbed melodies float over the top of the pulsating texture. Tongue rams and breath sounds articulate percussive timbres, while trill figures and imitative rapid ascending arpeggios create sudden flashes of brilliance. Intervening choral textures create contrast with the insistent rhythmic sections. The result is a work that strongly suggests the regularity and external profile of core minimalist masterworks, but pushes beyond those limits to achieve a more variegated expressive and structural through line.
Grim presents two works by David Sanford on this collection: Klatka Still, written in 2006-07, and Offertory, written for and commissioned by her in 2021. In the two movements of Klatka Still, a central pitch is circled like an idée fixe in an accumulating fantasy in the first movement, and then in a swirling, kaleidoscopic texture in the second, careening towards a forceful finish. Offertory is inspired by long form improvisations by two iconic jazz saxophonists — John Coltrane and Dave Liebman. The opening movement begins with a mysterious unison melody featuring intervallic leaps, poignant pauses between phrases, and an enveloping resonance created by the piano’s sustain pedal. The flute plays evocative, improvisatory phrases over an ominous rumbling in the piano’s low register. The second movement is marked by an immediate turn towards increased intensity, starting with a virtuosic, energetic flute solo of fragmented modular motives. The piano enters with punctuated, angular chords, dancing along with and in between the flute’s kinesthetic phrases. Sanford’s adept ability to capture the spontaneity of improvisation in his rhythmic writing is infectious. The keyboard is given a solo turn, darting this way and that, as if to reconsider each harmonic nuance and metric inflection. The controlled energy of the movement eventually unleashes into unbridled fury with raucous repeated bass notes and cascading descending arpeggios before dispersing into disjointed utterances, breath sounds, and three short closing flourishes.
Allison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland and Valerie Coleman’s Wish Sonatine both engage with historical and social events as sources of inspiration and response. Loggins-Hull’s solo work references recent turmoil from both natural disasters (Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico) and manmade crisis (the Syrian civil war). The musical material remains focused on tonal elements throughout, symbolizing an anchored sonic “home” as a respite from external trials. Coleman’s Wish Sonatine is a setting of British-Guyanese poet Fred D’Aguiar’s “Wish” from The Rose of Toulouse, which depicts the Middle Passage of the Atlantic slave trade. Coleman’s evocative music is narrative and cinematic, capturing tumultuous waves, the fragility of a sea battered ship, and the violence of an inhuman industry. The piece rushes forwards, dramatically propelled by vibrant rhythms as well as the force of its powerful subject.
– Dan Lippel
All tracks were recorded at Gusman Concert Hall, Frost School of Music, University of Miami, January 6–12, 2022
Produced by Svet Stoyanov, Elemental Culture, LLC
Recorded and Edited by Svet Stoyanov, Elemental Culture, LLC
Recording consulted by Robert Friedrich, Five/Four Productions, LLC
Mixed and Mastered by Robert Friedrich, Five/Four Productions, LLC
Program Notes: Anthony Barone
Photographer: Tracey Hagen
Design & Layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
This recording was funded in part from a Provost Research Award from the University of Miami
Hailed as “a deft, smooth flute soloist” by the New York Times, flutist Jennifer Grim has given solo and chamber performances throughout the United States, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. For over twenty years, she was the flutist of the award-winning Zéphyros Winds and the New York Chamber Soloists. She is a frequent guest artist with the Boston Chamber Music Society, Alpenglow Chamber Music Festival, Ensemble Flageolet, and has performed with such renowned ensembles such as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, American String Quartet, and with members of the Takacs Quartet and St. Lawrence Quartet.
Jennifer has performed as a soloist with the Frost Symphony Orchestra, Frost Wind Ensemble, Lviv Philharmonic, Boca Raton Symphonia, UNLV Symphony Orchestra, Henderson Symphony Orchestra, the Vermont Summer Music Festival, among others. As a guest artist, she has performed with the Zéphyros Winds. Jennifer has been in residence at universities across the country, including the Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, Stanford University, Yale School of Music, and many others. She also has performed as Principal Flute of the Mozart Orchestra of New York, Santo Domingo Festival Orchestra, Boca Symphonia, and the Festival Orchestra Napa.
She is a passionate advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the field of classical music. She has also worked with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA) National Festival, which invites students from El Sistema inspired programs across the United States to perform in a national youth orchestra performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, California.
Jennifer is currently Associate Professor at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. She previously served on the faculty of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for twelve years and in 2017 was honored with the Teacher of the Year Award from the UNLV College of Fine Arts. A native of Berkeley, California, Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University and Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from Yale University. Recently appointed Artistic Administrator of the Frost School at Festival Napa Valley, she is cur- rently President of the Board of Directors of Chamber Music America and was the 2021 Program Chair for the National Flute Association Annual Convention.https://www.jennifergrim.com/
Known as “a virtuosic soloist possessed of power, sensitivity, earthiness, and humor” (Whitney Smith, Indianapolis Star) with the “power to make an audience sit up and pay attention...thought-provoking for performers and listeners alike” (James Manheim, All Music Guide), Michael Sheppard studied with the legendary Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Conservatory. He was selected by the American Pianists Association as a Classical Fellow, which designation led to the recording of his Harmonia Mundi CD of 2007. In 2019, another recording will be released by Azica, a Cleveland-based label distributed worldwide by Naxos Records, as well as an experimental album of all improvisations.
He has performed solo recitals and concertos around the world, as well as across the USA, including several solo Weill (Carnegie) Hall recitals and a solo Kennedy Center debut. As a funny little matter of fact, he happens to have given solo recitals in the hometowns of both Mahler (Jihlava, Czech Republic) and Elvis (Tupelo, Mississippi), and enjoys taking in the local culture wherever in the world he finds himself. Michael gives master classes, teaches regularly and plays with some of the top singers and instrumentalists around; he also coaches singers, instrumentalists, and conductors, and also conducts occasionally himself.
An improviser and composer since the single digits of age, he has worked closely with fellow composers John Corigliano, Christopher Theofanidis, Michael Hersch, Robert Sirota and the late Nicholas Maw, demonstrating a deep love of new music; his eclectic tastes also led him recently to musical-direct performances of Jason Robert Brown’s Broadway show “The Last Five Years” as well as “Elegies for Angels, Punks, and Raging Queens” at the Brighton (U.K.) Fringe Fest, in which show he also made his stage acting debut. He is a native of Philadelphia and resides in Baltimore, where he works at both the Peabody Conservatory and the Baltimore School for the Arts, sharing his love and understanding of music and the artistic process with future generations. His hobbies include avoiding political discussions on Facebook, clumsily attempting to master certain bodyweight exercises so as to be able to eat and drink whatever he wants relatively without consequence, and reading.
In this program — of works by Tania León, Alvin Singleton, Julia Wolfe, David Sanford, Allison Loggins-Hull and Valerie Coleman — none of the music is on autopilot.
Singleton, born in 1940, is the oldest composer represented; his music should be heard in concert halls more frequently. Jennifer Grim’s take on Argoru III, for solo flute, digs in to his melodic gifts, as well as his feel for textural variation within five concise minutes. Similarly wide-ranging is León’s Alma — the lyrical opening of which follows a winding, entertaining path toward the bumptious rhythmic fillips of its central section. And in Coleman’s Wish Sonatine, a work inspired by a Fred D’Aguiar poem about the Middle Passage, the composer navigates between episodes of horror and moments of communal purpose with narrative drive.
Sanford — a protean talent — gets two pieces on the program. Klatka Still, for flute and piano, has been recorded before. On this release, Michael Sheppard excels in the keyboard’s avant-jazz-influenced clusters in the second movement; Grim’s flute playing steers some of that energy into starkly pressurized notes that also have the quality of swing. She puts similar skills to use in her premiere recording of Sanford’s Offertory. (Again, the second movement is the wild portion of the ride.) Two stirring flute solos — a self-overdubbed take on Wolfe’s Oxygen, for 12 flutes, and Loggins-Hull’s Homeland — round out this sharply executed program.
— Seth Colter Walls, 12.28.2022
Grim not only has a great technique, whether in music of exquisite lyricism, like Tania León's Alma (2009), which opens this superb album, or of an advanced architecture, such as Julia Wolfe's Oxygen, for 12 Flutes (2021), but her curatorial acumen is equally sharp. Putting crucial recent works by Valerie Coleman and Alison Loggins-Hull alongside an Alvin Singleton piece from 1970 lends context to her selections, which the liner notes describe as being at the intersection of post-minimalism and Afro-modernism. Through Broken Time was recorded and released in 2022, which is not as common as you would think in the new music world - but it is just that urgent a collection, and one that will be looked back upon as a landmark in the future. Grim did not hesitate to get this music to us, do not hesitate to listen ASAP.
— Jeremy Shatan, 1.02.2023
After 20 years working alongside Robert Aitken you might be forgiven for thinking I’d have heard enough flute music to last a lifetime and indeed there are times when I have said that a little flute goes a long way. That sentiment notwithstanding I encountered a lovely disc this month that put the lie to that. Through Broken Time features Jennifer Grim in contemporary works for solo and multiple flutes, some with piano accompaniment provided by Michael Sheppard (New Focus Recordings FCR346 newfocusrecordings.com). I had put the disc on while cataloguing recent arrivals without paying undo attention until the bird-like sounds and Latin rhythms of Tania León’s Alma leapt out at me. I had just finished listening to Victoria Bond’s disc, and it was as if I were back in the jungle dreamed of by the caged bird mentioned above.
I suppose it was inevitable that I would find Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen for 12 flutes (2021) reminiscent of Steve Reich’s Vermont Counterpoint for flute and tape or 11 flutes, which I first heard in Ransom Wilson’s multi-tracked recording some four decades ago I don’t mean to say that Wolfe’s work is derivative of that classic, but that the orchestra of flutes, in this case involving all the regular members of the flute family rather than Reich’s piccolos, C and alto flutes, and especially the consistency of sound from part to part as a result of them all being played by one flutist, has a familiarity, especially in the context of Wolfe’s post-minimalist style. The addition of bass flute to the mix fills out the wall of sound, the density of which can at times be mistaken for a pipe organ. The liner notes also liken the piece to Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments but whatever the forebears, Wolfe has made this flute choir her own and Grim rises to the occasion in spades.
David Sanford is represented by two jazz inspired works, Klatka Still from 2007, and Offertory (2021), the first a homage to trumpeters Tony Klatka and Tomasz Stanko, and the second inspired by the extended improvisations of John Coltrane and Dave Liebman. The disc also includes solo works by Alvin Singleton and Allison Loggins-Hull – this latter a haunting work that meditates on the devastation wreaked by hurricane Maria, social, political and racial turmoil in the United States, and the Syrian civil war – and Wish Sonatine by Valerie Coleman, a dramatic work that conveys brutality and resistance and which incorporates djembe rhythms symbolizing enslaved Africans. Grim proves herself not only comfortable but fluent in all the diverse idioms and the result is a very satisfying disc.
— David Olds, 12.16.2022
In Anthony Barrone’s astute liner notes, he describes Through Broken Time, flutist Jennifer Grim’s New Focus recording as a mixture of pieces that explore Afro-modernism and post minimalism. I would suggest that classic modernism also plays a role in these varied and compelling pieces for solo flute, overdubbed flutes, and flute with piano accompaniment.
Case in point is Tania León’s Alma. Her propensity for Mediterranean rhythms and melodies is on display, but in places it is subsumed by post-tonal gestures and irregular rhythms. Balancing the piece’s digressive narrative, Grim and pianist Michael Sheppard demonstrate a simpatico pairing. The earliest piece on the recording is Alvin Singleton’s Argoru III (1971); the rest have been written in the past fifteen years. Gestural angularity, trills, microtones, bends and florid lines, with suddenly appearing altissimo pitches, make this challenging both from a technical and interpretive standpoint. Grim does an admirable job shaping the piece to create a sensitive performance. Would love to hear more first-rank players tackle this piece.
Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen: For 12 Flutes (2021) is a brand-new piece for overdubbed instruments. At fifteen and a half minutes, it is the longest piece on the recording. Even with overdubs, one senses the exquisite breath control required in each part. Whorls of ostinatos are offset by melodies in quarter note triplets. The central section thins down to just the slow melody and then resumes in a buoyant dance with mouth percussion. Gradually, the slow melody does battle with rocketing upward gestures and trills. A new ostinato goes from bottom to top, once again juxtaposing the low melody and trills as a cadence point. Thinning out the texture to the slow melody and a number of polyphonic lines and soprano register flurries, the last few sections then build several of the previous segments into new combinations. The slow melody is presented in the bass register, accompanied by it in halved values in the treble in an oasis before the finale, a pileup of material that displays all twelve flutes, punctuating the close with a bevy of trills.
David Sanford’s Klatka Still (2009) is a two-movement piece, dedicated to trumpeter Tony Klatka. The first combines a solemn chorale-like passage in the piano with disjunct gestures in the flute. The duo finish the movement returning to the note A-flat again and again, almost obsessively. The second movement gives the piano a shuffle rhythm. After a cadenza, that flute takes up a moto perpetuo with a bit of swing alongside the piano. Then another cadenza with interpolations by the piano. Gradually the duet evolves into descending third gestures in the piano which spurs still another ostinato in the flute. The duo adopt and then discard a number of tempos, each developing one of the segments of the material presented at the movement’s beginning. Finally, the first ostinato locks in, with the flute adorning it with high trills, leading to an abrupt close.
Allison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland (2017) has the benefit of the composer being an accomplished flutist as well. It is expertly composed for the instrument, giving Grim a score to relish: which she does. Like so many of Loggins-Hull’s pieces, it meditates on race, grief, and impoverishment. Homeland’s subtext considers the mournful experience of being deprived a home, from those stolen for the slave trade to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. The piece is a compelling testament to mourning, with a soulful yet undefeated character.
Valerie Coleman’s Wish Sonatine (2015) is inspired by Fred D’Aguiar’s eponymous poem about the Middle Passage of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Coleman depicts both the creaking of the slave ship’s hull and djembe rhythms from the homelands of the enslaved. Score markings suggest the struggles she depicts: “Defiant,” “Chaotic, gradually more anxious,” and “With fierce indomitability to survive.” Emotive and programmatic, Wish Sonatine vividly communicates the type of engagement she seeks.
The piece closes with a new work by David Sanford, commissioned by Grim, Offertory I and II (2021). The first movement knits together spare melodies, often doubling flute and piano. Muted repetitions in the piano and supply lyricism in the flute bring the movement to a close. The second begins with a solo cadenza that is fleet, combining post-bop and post-tonality. The piano chimes in with tense intervals and succinct gestures, the two combine into a Calder mobile of busy overlaps and alternating gestures. The piano gets its own solo turn, the two eventually coming together on unison rhythms but disparate gestures – spaced chords from the piano, and trills from the flute. The piano takes on a muscular strut while the piano adopts another jazz-tinged solo. Descending whole tone patterns followed by a terse game of hide and seek ends the piece, and the recording, with a button. A well-curated and admirably well-performed collection, Grim’s Through Broken Time shares a bevy of repertoire that should be in any new music flutist’s folder.
— Christian Carey, 1.09.2023
The flutist Jennifer Grim brings her inimitable talent to Michael Sheppard’s agile piano skills, as they do justice to compositions of Afro-Modernism and post-minimalism ideas thanks to a handful of esteemed composers.
Tania León’s “Alma” starts the listen with Grim’s unpredictable flute prowess alongside Sheppard’s warm keys in the very calming landscape that embraces Cuban grooves, and “Argoru III”, by Alvin Singleton, follows with a solo flute performance that’s sometimes bare, and other times quivers with a complicated and fascinating manipulation of tonality.
David Sanford’s “Klatka Still” arrives in the middle, and it presents both beauty and darkness in the lush climate, while “Homeland” focuses on the flute with very ambient and unorthodox gestures that makes this the album’s best thanks to Allison Loggins-Hull’s vision. “Wish Sonatine” is near the exit, and it combines low keys and stirring flute for the tumultuous, rhythmic and powerful presentation of Valerie Coleman’s artistry.
A multi-dimensional effort that is quite meticulous and diverse, there just isn’t a second here that’s not exciting and memorable.
— Tom Haugen, 2.11.2023
Visit flutist Jennifer Grim’s website and you will instantly behold an alluring photograph of a musician magically suspending her chosen instrument deftly in mid-air. And so, the tone is set for the magic that comes from a beguiling CD of music for solo flute, multiple flutes, and flute and piano by composers spanning up to half a century of style and experience.
Each of the composers featured here – Tania León (b. 1943), Alvin Singleton (b. 1940), Julia Wolfe (b. 1958), David Sanford (b. 1963), Allison Loggins-Hull (b. 1982), and Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) – has a unique voice to offer, expressed through finely honed compositional technique and personal musical taste.
Alma (2009) by Tania León is a delightful piece cloaked in a style that, during a particular mid-20th century era, perhaps typified the sound of American solo flute music.
As it progressed, I would have been content to be engulfed and enchanted by solo flute exclusively. Yet, I was surprisingly greeted with accompanist Michael Sheppard’s ably performed piano incursions that enhanced the quality of the composition without detracting from the spell woven by Grim’s sensitive performance and León taste and restraint.
Over time, the piece becomes more dramatic, but the balance between piano and flute remains constant, as does the composition’s spell. At one point, in an effortless glide into a surprising change of pace, the piece becomes more conventionally harmonic and rhythmic, almost to the point of being danceable, before returning to a more calm, dreamlike freedom of expression that slowly, carelessly melts away.
Alma is one of the newer compositions on this CD, provided by one of the more established composers represented. Perhaps the piece’s ease of expression suggests an ease of compositional creativity that only experience and maturity tend to provide. León’s self-assurance in providing a familiar style in current times echoes the confidence of a J.S. Bach offering baroque musings in an age drifting rapidly towards classicism.
Unlike León’s Alma, Alvin Singleton’s Argoru III (1971) seemed more jubilant and playful, even purposefully erratic, yet somehow maintaining the impression of thematic consistency throughout the piece. Excellent use is made of the flute’s wide range, with leaps between registers creating a viable impression of a multi-voiced instrument. While the musical language is predominately atonal, cohesion and contrast are provided to the materials through judicious use of motifs and variations, and the groupings of tones within each. Jennifer Grim’s interpretation is wonderfully insightful, and her execution of the range and variety provided by the materials is flawless.
In Ghanaian Twi, “argoru” means “to play.” Depending on interpretation, this phrase could be considered an opportunity for joy and entertainment or a call to performance and expertise. In Argoru III, and perhaps the rest of Singleton’s “Argoru” series, we are rewarded with opportunities for the best of both.
Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen (2021) is the kind of musical experience you come away from feeling practically born again.
A piece ostensibly rooted firmly in the genre referred to as post-minimalism, Oxygen offers a rare sonic experience, exuding an extraordinarily plentiful variety of glorious, gorgeous, celebratory sonorities within the premise of providing a “wall of sound” for the listener to enjoy.
It makes terrific advantage of contrasts of dynamics and registers available to the instruments utilized, and even varies its harmonic language from time to time, providing the semblance of some bit of conflict and resolution that minimalist compositions usually don’t contain.
I particularly enjoyed Wolfe’s use of the alto flute and, especially, the bass flute. These are instruments exploited far too seldomly by talented composers and performers. Both instruments offer warmth and depth above and beyond the sound of a traditional flute that needs to be welcomed and appreciated more often.
I did feel somewhat disappointed that, on my own sound system, the “wall of sound” promised was not successfully achieved, with most of the sound ecstatically bouncing between speakers, but seldom adequately filling in the space between them. In fact, today’s amplification systems have so many variations of sound environments to choose (THX Cinema; THX Music; Unplugged; PLIIx Music; etc.) and so many kinds of speaker delivery systems to utilize (Dolby Atmos; 5.1 or 7.1 Surround Sound; etc.) that achieving that “wall of sound” may take some inspired system tweaking to achieve.
As a former high school/college rock and roller, the implication of a “wall of sound” may have set me up with completely unrealistic expectations. Perhaps the reference to a “wall of sound” is best left unsaid. Without it, the power of the piece better persuades without undue expectation. Or perhaps I need to hear the track on a different sound system. Or maybe I’ll have the uncanny opportunity someday to hear the piece live through a system utilizing multiple speakers and extreme amplification. Wouldn’t that be exceptional?
Some might argue that minimalism, or perhaps even post-minimalism, is “too easy” a compositional endeavor; that all you need to do is select a phrase or two that pleases you, then vary those phrases through expansion, attrition, tempo change, transposition, or use of any number of compositional tools available to the imagination.
This assumption reminds me of the popular notion that, upon viewing a Jackson Pollock painting, we should all have the realization that our 5-year-old could accomplish the achievement just as well.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The challenge of minimalism could perhaps be considered as an endeavor to bring as much meaning as possible to as little material as possible, while post-minimalism endeavors to cautiously expand the amount of material considered and carefully reduce the amount of repetition employed while still maintaining a degree of self-imposed limitation and reserve.
That said, for those who prophesize the imminent end of minimalism and post-minimalism, I think there’s far more still to be tapped within its rich vein. I enjoyed Oxygen immensely, and I will guardedly maintain a belief that Wolfe agrees with me in my assessment of the further potential of this style of music. After all, doesn’t every composer hope for each ensuing effort to be the greater endeavor over the last? Julia Wolfe’s post-minimalistic approach has yielded a result that aspires to another, higher level. Its “plentiful variety of glorious, gorgeous, celebratory sonorities” begins to speak of a coming musical language.
Klatka Still I and II (2009), by David Sanford (one of the younger composers represented on this CD), was by far more dramatic and ebullient than many other compositions. As such, it may well have required more attention and coordination on the part of the performers than the others. The piece challenges both flutist and pianist technically, not only to perfect the required nuances of their individual performances but also to perfect the nuance of their collaborative performance.
Klatka Still I surprised me with its use of a musical language unexpectedly similar to that of Messiaen and perhaps other French composers of the time and beyond. Klatka Still II varied the genre a bit from Katka Still I, relying instead on crisp ostinati to drive its purpose, but still retaining a veiled reference to the language of Messiaen, especially in the latter part of the movement. Regardless of the reference to a prior atonal language (at least to this reviewer’s ears), the harmonies were nevertheless beautiful, and the overall effect of both pieces quite breathtaking.
Allison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland (2018) was perhaps the most original and personal composition on the CD, containing a lyricism and ease of flow not often found in a musical listening experience. The musical language is uncomplex and refreshing, primarily using diatonicism to fulfill its purpose and just a peppering of performance effects (flutter tongue; pitch bend) to enhance its expressiveness.
Neither minimalist nor post-minimalist nor atonal, it is a piece that seems to spiritually harken back to simpler times, but certainly not to simple thoughts or trivial notions. Being one of the newer pieces on the album by one of the younger composers, I found myself wondering, warmly, pensively, if this composition might represent the positive result that an extended inclusiveness of personal music experiences can have on a composer’s creative freedom.
Wish Sonatine (2015), by Valerie Coleman, oddly alludes to times both past and present, containing a rare combination of a predominance of the dramatic atonality of David Sanford’s Klatka Still I and II with a teasing bit of the diatonicism contained in Allison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland, plus a peppering of populism interspersed throughout. At this point, having infrequently encountered the results of such an unusual compositional approach, I can only applaud its intrigue and adventurousness. There is certainly a story being told here, and a meaningful one at that, narrated in a fashion perhaps new to many classically trained ears. Truly a “no holds barred” approach to delivering the message. The piece invites further listening occasions to provide complete clarity of purpose.
Offertory I and II (2021) are additional offerings from composer David Sanford representing compositions written 12 years later than Klatka Still I and II. Unlike the other compositions, Offertory I provided a more prominent opportunity for the pianist to be featured. However, the piece’s overall effect was quite lugubrious, as one might feel crawling through a tight cavern, darkly and forebodingly. Offertory II, on the other hand, was quite a bit more dramatic, again driven, at times, by crisp ostinati, as occurred in Klatka Still II, suggesting either a formulaic approach on the part of the composer or, perhaps more advantageously, a desire to evolve familiar personal stylistic elements over time.
I certainly felt the power of the drive and drama, but at moments here and there felt a bit like I was in the midst of a film score, which I found to be at odds with my expectations. Still, Sanford’s compositional toolbox is clearly quite full and used to great advantage to provide a wide range of expression and persuasion. And a listener’s expectations can surely be subject to challenge on the part of a composer, for the benefit of the illumination such challenge can provide, can it not?
Anthony Barone, an historical musicologist and associate professor at the School of Music, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, does a marvelous job with the program notes supplied with the CD, outlining the qualifications, experience, and commitment to new music performance of both flutist Jennifer Grim and pianist Michael Sheppard, as well as providing additional insight to the background and experience of the featured composers plus additional perspective into their compositions.
Composers need performers to realize their vision. Performers need composers to illuminate their gifts. A piece may tell a story, express a purpose, or have a valuable message to convey. But every piece relies on the talents of its performers to provide substantiation, even when the situation requires the composer to become the composition’s sole performer.
Every composer on this excellent (and excellently recorded) CD has a significant voice to share. But without the skills and dedication of outstanding performers like Grim and Sheppard, the superb stories and messages provided by the voices of the composers featured on this CD could easily have been abandoned to disperse in the ether.
— Howard Wershil, 11.14.2022
The piano is only an occasional presence on another New Focus Recordings CD, this one featuring flute performances by Jennifer Grim of seven pieces of music – some including piano – by six different composers. The piano appears in two works by David Sanford, the only composer heard more than once on the disc, and in pieces by Tania León and Valerie Coleman. Sanford’s Klatka Still (2009) is a two-movement piece where the flute, which dominates the material, has a certain circularity of expression in the first movement, then provides a level of linear calm above rather disconnected piano material in the second. Sanford’s Offertory (2021), also in two movements, offers near-lyrical thematic flow in the first and greater fragmentation in the second. León’s 2009 Alma (“Soul”) meanders here and there, focusing on flute techniques more than flute-and-piano relations, although the piano does have more to say later in the work. Coleman’s Wish Sonatine (2015) is one of those “social consciousness” works whose background the audience must know in order to be able to make any sense of the material – in this case, the piece is a meditation on the Atlantic slave trade. One of the flute-only pieces is similarly concerned with societal matters: Allison Loggins-Hull’s Homeland (2018) is a rather screechy response to various disasters, both natural and human-created. Neither of these pieces stands effectively on its own as music, and apparently neither is intended to: they are advocacy works more than musical ones. Of the two remaining pieces, Alvin Singleton’s Argoru III (1971) is a periodically interesting exploration of flute technique, while Julia Wolfe’s Oxygen, for 12 flutes (2021) uses overdubbing to include Grim performing on piccolos, alto flute and bass flute as well as the standard flute heard elsewhere on the CD. A certain richness of texture is available through the overdubbing technique, as well as the ability of a single performer to have a dialogue (and a “trialogue” and more) with herself. But Wolfe does not take much advantage of the opportunities offered by the technique: the work is repetitious and uneven in its exploration of the different-but-related sonorities of the instruments, and seems often more focused on exploration of technique than on instrumental sound, much less any sort of expressiveness. At 15-and-a-half minutes, Oxygen is the longest piece on this disc, but it does not use that extended time period or the multiple similar-but-different instruments played by Grim to any particularly strong effect. Grim’s playing itself is exemplary throughout the CD, however, and the disc should be of interest to other flute players – although not particularly to pianists, despite Michael Sheppard’s game attempts to make more of the piano parts than the composers themselves do.
Flutist Jennifer Grim has always wanted to create an album of timeless music but of living composers. This declaration isn’t surprising, given the album, “Through Broken Time,” which is made up of songs with old classical charm but with new, modern chops.
In a recent interview, Grim explained how she had plotted this beautiful collection of contemporary music for several years. What some people would call a cross between Afro-Modernism and Post-minimalism. The kind of repertoire she played in the New York City music scene, where she lived for seven years after graduating from Yale University—and where her idea of one day releasing an album was born.
In the history of the recording business, the album has always been the dominant form of recorded music, she observed. And many times, it’s tough for musicians to get funding and support from a label. Grim’s idea resurfaced in the fall of 2019 when she started working as an associate professor of flute at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. When she learned about the Provost’s Research Award, an annual award offered to faculty, she applied for recording project funding, and got it!
This past September 23, “Through Broken Time” was released by New Focus Recordings, an artist-led collective label featuring releases in contemporary creative music, as well as new approaches to the older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Dan Lippel, composer Peter Gilbert in 2004, and composer/engineer Ryan Streber in 2004, formed around the production of the first five albums in the catalog.
1. Tania León: Alma
2. Alvin Singleton: Argoru III
3. Julia Wolfe: Oxygen, for 12 flutes
4. David Sanford: Klatka Still: I.
5. David Sanford: Klatka Stil: II.
6. Allison Loggins-Hull: Homeland
7. Valerie Coleman: Wish Sonatine
8. David Sanford: Offertory: I.
9. David Sanford: Offertory: II.
“Dan and I have known each other for more than 20 years,” said Grim. “We were at a summer festival together way, way back when we were students and before his label even started, which is very successful today. So many leading contemporary composers and performers have their works on this label, and so I'm really thankful that he agreed to present my first album on New Focus Recordings.”
Grim is a classical flutist, so the album is categorized as a classical album, but there are some elements of jazz and other improvised sounds in the piece. There are two works by composer David Sanford, who has worked with Grim for many years. “In this album, he wrote me a world premiere piece, called Offertory, which is a tribute to John Coltrane, a famous American jazz saxophonist, bandleader, and composer. Perhaps one of the most influential and acclaimed figures in the history of jazz and 20th-century music.”
Coltrane has a very famous recording called A Love Supreme, which is a very spiritual album. Grim liked the idea of having that sort of spiritual, religious context in her collection of songs, which sounds like it was improvised, but was all written out. “There's a certain freedom in the music that is very virtuosic, yet also very controlled, because as a classical musician, I'm not as comfortable improvising. But I really loved the idea of it, and so it allowed me to have that freedom, but also have a bit more control of the boundaries.”
Grim’s album is very rhythmically driven. You can’t help to fall in love with its high-energy music. And, because of the jazz influence, led Grim to the album's title, “Through Broken Time.”
“Broken time is actually a jazz reference,” she said. “It has to do with the interplay of strong and weak beats in jazz music. And so, it's like time is being broken—the idea of going through this broken time in terms of music.”
The first piece on the album is called Alma [Soul] by Afro-Cuban-American conductor and composer of both large-scale and chamber works, Tania León. In this piece, Grim takes us to a day in the life of a bird. This is a recurring theme in the album, like the monumental, 15-minute, flute solo piece called “Oxygen,” a rapid-fire composition by Julia Wolfe.
“The piece is originally written for 12 flutists, but I recorded all twelve parts myself,” said Grim, who admitted this to be by far the most challenging piece to record. “I had to record each part individually, which ended up totaling over three hours of music. The recording engineer then layered each part on top of one another during the editing process, creating the effect that many people are playing.”
Every track of this album was recorded on campus at Maurice Gusman Concert Hall’s recording studio. Grim’s producer and engineer was her colleague, Svetoslav Stoyanov, director and associate professor of Classical Percussion Studies. “What an experience!” concluded Grim.
— Maritza Cosano, 12.03.2022
This unique recital of African-American flute music by Jennifer Grim spans a historical perspective and touches on trends, from classical and jazz to European Modernism and Minimalism, that indicate how diverse these composers are. Grim is a dedicated advocate who plays with beautiful tone, superb technique, and the imagination of a true artist. I’ll say at the outset that these accomplished composers, being much younger than the generation of Florence Price and William Grant Still, rely little or not at all on gestures directly borrowed from spirituals, ragtime, the blues, or rock. Such influences that I pick up are tangential most of the time except for a consistent thread of jazz in several works.
There are three pieces for solo flute, and since the only work from this genre in the standard repertoire is Debussy’s Syrinx—Luciano Berio wrote Sequenza I for solo flute, if we’re talking about fairly fringe repertoire, and no doubt other pieces are known to flutists—my curiosity was piqued, and I set out to see which solo piece was the most ingenious.
The first is Argoru III by Alvin Singleton (b. 1940); dating from 1971, it is also by decades the earliest work here. It belongs to eight works for solo instruments that the Brooklyn-born Singleton wrote during his time at Yale. The title is African: “argoru” means play in Ghanian Twi. One aid in navigating this release are the detailed program notes by Anthony Barone. Singleton, we learn, counts jazz and hearing Leonard Bernstein conduct Mahler as strong influences. Argoru III is freely expressive, using a few tightly knit motives as its foundation. Within this scope Singleton shows great skill and technical subtlety.
I wish his idiom was more penetrable by ear, however, because in effect Argoru III is difficult for the general listener in its absence of tonality, melody, and discernible structure. But that’s the ante you pay if you want to enter the new-music world. I came away remembering some buzzy tonguing, sudden leaps to penetrating high notes, and the sultry mood of the opening motive, which is set in the flute’s lower register.
Solo turns into ensemble in Oxygen for 12 Flutes by Julia Wolfe (b. 1958), which allows Grim to overdub piccolo, flute, alto flute, and bass flute. Since an ensemble is capable of harmony and counterpoint, it’s not quite fair to call this a solo flute work despite the absence of a piano. Writing for 12 solo voices would be almost as difficult as the challenge that faced Strauss in Metamorphosen. Wolfe has streamlined the task by dividing the voices into one camp, a kind of flute orchestra playing a quick-moving Minimalist tapestry against which one or two solo voices occasionally peek out. There’s abundant ingenuity and variety to hold a listener’s attention, helped by the simple tonal idiom. This variety mitigates, for me at least, the monotony induced by much Minimalism. Here, the shimmering timbre of a flute ensemble has its own luminous enticement, and I’d count Oxygen a success, offering considerable popular appeal. Grim’s precision in layering a dozen flutes is spectacular.
In a totally different mode I found a strong appeal in Homeland by Allison Loggins-Hull (b. 1982), which follows Debussy’s lead by exploiting the flute’s ability to sound like a solitary singer. The embellished melody has a haunting archaic quality that also links it to Syrinx. Tonal linearity is not old-fashioned anymore; it is one of the many possibilities available to a contemporary composer in our eclectic era. Given the innocent directness of the music, the program notes surprised me by saying that Loggins-Hull had a century’s shameful history of racial injustice and suffering in mind.
Two of the four works for flute and piano, both strongly in jazz mood, come from David Sanford (b. 1963). Intriguingly, the first piece, Khatka Still, was inspired by two jazz trumpeters, Tony Khatka and Tomasz Stanko. The first movement contrasts a slow chorale in the piano with glittering commentary by the flute, leading to a second, more virtuosic section. The overall feeling has cool in its soul. The second movement is Bergian in its compression around a single pitch (A♭). There is something of a role reversal, the piano flying off in rapid excursions while the flute begins with a slow melody. Eventually the two voices find common ground, sometimes in rapid unison. Sanford doesn’t explore new techniques for either instrument, but his quick-witted imagination makes Khatka Still captivating.
The other Sanford piece, Offertory, embarks on a very different journey. To quote the composer, it “takes its inspiration from extended jazz improvisations by John Coltrane and Dave Liebman.” The title both affirms and questions faith. The first movement is etude-like and revolves around another single pitch, B♮. The second movement begins with an extended cadenza for the flute in improvisatory style, joined by an angular, pointed piano part. There is considerable technical density to Offertory, and it has an abstruse air consistent with the jazz greats who hover in the background. It is impossible to miss how effortlessly and with what exuberance Grim essays the flute part. Michael Sheppard’s excellent pianism keeps pace with her in every respect.
Two other works for flute and piano complete the picture. Alma (Spanish for soul) is by Cuban-American composer Tania Léon (b. 1943). This is the only pictorial work on the program. As the composer explains, “the freedom and felicity of the soul is embodied in the figure of a bird as it greets the day, flitters through the canopy, and settles to rest.” If that description implies perky cheerfulness, Léon’s imagination has more to offer. There are influences from the French flute tradition and ballet. Harmony is kept fluid, and the result is an appealing amalgam that changes in swift, scintillating gestures.
Finally, Wish Sonatine by Valerie Coleman (b. 1970) is in an idiom the composer describes as “urban classical.” The explanation for her style is somewhat opaque, but Coleman takes history into consideration to “record the times and create new histories.” The implication of social engagement is borne out by the title of her piece—“Wish” is a poem from British Guyana about the Middle Atlantic slave trade. Stylistically, “Coleman’s music conveys brutality and resistance; variegated musical motives convey an ominous seascape and the creaking hulls of grim ships.”
At 12 minutes, Wish Sonatine has enough room to unfold its narrative, and after a lovely melodic section, Coleman’s writing displays impressive diversity—the crashing piano that buffets the flute in storm-tossed seas is especially memorable. But in its own way, almost every work on the program is impressive, and since I am an outsider to the world of chamber music for flute, my eyes were opened. Grim, who enjoys a distinguished career at the elite level of new and classical music, has devised one of the best solo woodwind recitals I’ve heard in a long time. I think this is also an important personal achievement for her—Grim’s artist’s bio tells us that she is “a passionate advocate of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the field of classical music.”
— Huntley Dent, 1.25.2023