Secret MessagesJon Nelson & Tom Kolor


Trumpeter Jon Nelson and percussionist Tom Kolor release Secret Messages, a collection of works for duo by Moshe Shulman, Dave Ballou, Jeffrey Stadelman, Dafnis Prieto, and Emil Harnas 2. The works represented take advantage of this duo's unique timbral range, mining a representative range of aesthetic approaches to produce a cohesive collection that contributes several new works to the repertoire.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 51:55
01Secret Messages II
Secret Messages II
03for vibraphone and trumpet
for vibraphone and trumpet
04Koral 17
Koral 17
05Koral 18
Koral 18
06Koral 1
Koral 1
07Trail of Memories
Trail of Memories
08Ice Fishing in Kanona
Ice Fishing in Kanona

On Secret Messages, trumpeter Jon Nelson and percussionist Tom Kolor present several works birthed at The University at Buffalo, where they are both on faculty. The pieces display a beguiling range of inspirations and sonic references, evoking the ancient lineage of both of these instruments up to the vanguard practices of today.

Moshe Shulman’s Secret Messages II opens with a clarion trumpet call, accompanied by rolls and filigree on a percussion battery of wine cups, a table knife, and a plastic water bottle. Throughout the piece, Shulman explores the found sounds created when these everyday objects become musical instruments, while creating a spatial three dimensionality to the texture by transforming Nelson’s trumpet timbre with different mutes.

Dave Ballou’s trumpet solo Samskara develops its ideas in an organic, naturally evolving fashion, as an improviser might turn around fragments of musical ideas as they unfold, developing them as they arrive at different pitch levels. for vibraphone and trumpet explores the complementary acoustic qualities of the two instruments, either highlighting the trumpets ability to shape the duration and sustain of a gesture initially articulated by the vibraphone, animating long tones with charged trills, or playing simultaneously vigorous passagework.

Jeffrey Stadelman’s Koral series includes several short pieces for small instrumental forces that presents a snapshot of a sound world. #17, for solo muted trumpet, features winding figures that are punctuated by short repeated notes and key accented pitches. #18 is a duo meant to invoke street musicians, with Kolor’s percolating castanets and guiros egging on Nelson’s Third Stream-esque melody. The final Koral, and the first in Stadelman’s series, is for solo percussion and electronics and places the digital texture in the foreground as the live percussionist plays what Stadelman calls “a gamut of clamped, ‘non-musical sonic elements.”

Dafnis Prieto’s Trail of Memories translates into sound memories and recollections from the composer’s childhood. Prieto divides the thematic material into “domninant” and “subdominant” memories, the former anchoring the structure of the piece and the latter only occurring a couple of times and then receding from the texture. The piece migrates through several expressive areas, from marshal to playful, virtuosic to wistful, with the percussion often accentuating the trumpet material through imitation and supportive material.

Emil Harnas 2’s Ice Fishing in Kanona is an electro-acoustic work that highlights his unique fusing of music concrete, granular and additive synthesis, and agrisynthesis. Elaborate delays, glitchy static, and reedy electric organ timbres support the solo line in a texture that places the trumpet inside a dystopian hall of sonic mirrors. Midway through the work, a quasi modernist Klezmer groove is established before fading into disembodied electronic sounds, followed by an unsettling march texture.

Jon Nelson and Tom Kolor’s commitment to ambitious works is evident throughout this varied and engaging collection. Here are several pieces that carve out their own aesthetic territory, often driven by a musical puzzle that the composers have set out for themselves to solve and explore. It is music grounded in the fundamental modernist enterprise of inquiry, the captivating “what if”, performed with integrity and conviction.

- Dan Lippel

Recorded in Slee Hall at The State University of New York at Buffalo, 2005 - 2015
Executive Producers: Jon Nelson, Tom Kolor
Engineering, Editing, Mastering: Christopher Jacobs
Slee Hall Concert Manager: Phil Rehard

Design: Marc Wolf,

Cover Art: Rafael Vargas Suarez Universal BioCosmos (2022), stamped ink, acrylic, oil enamel and collage on paper (unique) signed, titled and dated on verso 14.37 x 14.17 inches (36.5 x36 cm) Courtesy of the artist and Hutchinson Modern, New York

Jon Nelson

Professor of Music at The University at Buffalo since 1998, Jon Nelson has worked tirelessly as an advocate for contemporary music and living composers. In co-founding the Meridian Arts Ensemble in 1987, he helped steer the group through a near 40 year run in which the MAE developed a new aesthetic of brass chamber music. With a focus on American composers, Nelson’s initiative has resulted in a body of work for brass that blurs traditional lines of categorization, bringing modern brass sound to new levels of purpose. Commissioned and arranged music from Stephen Barber, David Sanford, Milton Babbitt, Frank Zappa, Su Lian Tan, Tom Pierson, Andrew Rindfleisch, Ana Lara, Elliott Sharp, John Halle, Frank London, Kirk Nurock, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Ballou, King Crimson, Nick Didkovsky, Lei Liang, David Felder, Tania León, Captain Beefheart, Hermeto Pascoal, Mark Applebaum, Dafnis Prieto, Jimi Hendrix, Britton Theurer, and Ed Jacobs are all integral to Meridian’s repertoire. With over 15 recordings and 100+ commissions and premieres, Meridian long ago planted its flag as an intentionally groundbreaking and provocative musical unit.

Nelson has been Co-Curator of The Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York City, Producer for The Art of Jazz at The Albright Knox Art Gallery, and Artistic Director at Pausa Art House, both in Buffalo NY. He has developed a number of concert series in Western New York, often connecting student, professional, and community musicians. He recently produced recordings for the David Sanford Big Band, Factory Seconds Brass Trio, and Stephen Barber, and has three solo CDs that explore new directions in brass music; Secret Messages, Gran Calavera Electrica, Trumpet Nature.

As a teacher, Nelson strives to support his students’ creativity and musical proficiency. At University at Buffalo, he has reframed traditional ensembles and created new genre specific student groups that give attention to music ignored by the academic canon; Pan Am Ensemble, Ragtime Ensemble, Raymond Scott Project, Banda Viernes, and the Genkin Philharmonic. He has served on the faculty at the Tanglewood Music Center, Princeton University, Boston University, Hartt College, Middlebury College, and Oaxaca Instrumenta. Nelson holds a B.M. from The Juilliard School where he studied with Mark Gould, and has also studied with Antoine Cure in France, Laurie Frink and William Vacchiano in New York, and Don Harry in Buffalo.

The musicians on this album were selected because of their unique musical and collaborative skills. Their performing and teaching affiliations include; Meridian Arts Ensemble, Atlantic Brass Quintet, Imani Winds, American Brass Quintet, Manhattan Brass Quintet, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Utah Symphony, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Syracuse Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Genkin Philharmonic, Tom Pierson Orchestra, David Sanford Big Band, West Point Band, US Air Force Band, Boston University, Louisiana State University, University of Iowa, Oberlin Conservatory, University of Oregon, CalArts, San Francisco Conservatory, Juilliard, UCONN, SUNY Fredonia, University at Buffalo, University of Wisconsin Madison, Berklee College of Music.

Tom Kolor

Upon graduation from the Juilliard School in 1997, percussionist Tom Kolor became one of New York’s most in demand chamber musicians. He has collaborated with such composers and conductors as Louis Andriessen, Milton Babbitt, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, James Dillon, Mario Davidovsky, Tan Dun, John Eaton, David Felder, Brian Ferneyhough, Philippe Hurel, Oliver Knussen, Robert Kraft, Tania Leon, Alvin Lucier, Steven Mackey, Tristan Murial, Wayne Peterson, George Perle, Steve Reich, Christopher Rouse, Frederic Rzewski, Ralph Shapey, Essa Pekka Salonen, James Tenney, Chinary Ung, Charles Wuorinen, Julia Wolfe, Christian Wolff, Iannis Xenakis, and John Zorn. Since 1995, he has been a member of Talujon Percussion, presenting hundreds of concerts throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, giving countless premieres, making a significant contribution to the percussion repertoire. His solo CDs, American Masterpieces for Solo Percussion Volumes 1 & 2 feature works by Babbitt, Cage, Wuorinen, Shapey, Wolff, and Feldman. In addition, he appears on over fifty commercial recordings for labels such as Albany, Bridge, Capstone, CRI, Deutsche Grammophone, Innova, Koch, Naxos, New World, North/South Consonance, Tzadik, and Wergo. Tom Kolor is an Associate Professor of Music at The University at Buffalo SUNY.

Moshe Shulman

Russian-born Israeli/American composer, violin, viola, bandoneon and accordion player, Moshe Shulman (b. 1978) holds Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in Composition from the Jerusalem Academy of Music, and a PhD in Composition from the University at Buffalo, studying with Mark Kopytman, David Felder and Johannes Schollhorn. His music has been performed in Israel, Brazil, Canada, United States, Russia and France and Hungary by Norrbotten NEO, Juventas New Music Ensemble, Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Meridian Arts Ensemble, Slee Sinfonietta (Buffalo, NY), International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and the Arditti Quartet.

Dave Ballou

Trumpeter/Composer Dave Ballou can be heard in a variety of settings, from solo trumpet improvisations to large ensembles. His recordings can be found on the Steeplechase, CleanFeed, pfMentum and Out of Your Head record labels. Ballou has performed or recorded with Rabih Abou-Kahlil, Steely Dan, Michael Formanek, Mary Halvorson, Woody Herman, Andrew Hill, John Hollenbeck, Sheila Jordan, Oliver Lake, Dave Liebman, Mario Pavone, Dewey Redman, Maria Schneider, and Gunther Schuller. Ballou is a Professor of Music at Towson University and is the founding director of the Murray Jazz Residency.

Jeffrey Stadelman

Jeffrey Stadelman was born in 1959. He has composed over 50 works, mainly for orchestral instruments in chamber and large-ensemble formations. His most recent efforts feature intricate contrapuntal webs woven with the help of custom computer search processes. Jeff taught at the University at Buffalo from 1993 to 2016.

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.

Emil Harnas 2

Emil Harnas 2 is a composer / producer currently living in Sweden. He holds a PhD in composition from The University at Buffalo, where he studied with David Felder and Jeff Stadelman. He composes for diverse ensembles, including chamber groups, trumpet ensembles, chamber orchestra, rock band, and electro-acoustic sound settings.



Vital Weekly

New Focus leaves it up to the artists whether releases are digital-only (for file download) or actually appear as a physical release. As we do not really review digital releases, this has reduced the volume of NFR reviews by more than half. Add to this the summer break, which has been quiet around NFR releases lately. I need to catch up on this now. The two releases picked out here are the two latest. But, coincidence or not, subsequent releases often have something in common with NFR. In this case, the use of brass instruments with a single other instrument in a duo setting.

Jon Nelson and Tom Kolor - also a duo - also trumpet but now teaming with percussion. As noted sometime earlier in a review, this is challenging, as there is little means to create lasting sounds, the percussion rather limited to, well, 'percussive' sounds. Again, we have composers contributing, five in total, thus collecting several different styles. 'Secret Messages', the title track by Moshe Shulman, leaves the trumpet to create a line of melody
whilst metal and bell sounds rattle alongside. Dave Ballou contributes two pieces. The first 'Samskara' is for solo trumpet. 'For vibraphone and trumpet' sees Kolor join, again with bell-like sounds, now following the long-drawn trumpet lines with a sound that matches the trumpet timbre, merging the sounds to some extent.
Jeffrey Stadelman contributes three 'Korals', short 'sketches' of music. A short trumpet solo (is this being mean to the percussionist again?), then an ironic piece reminiscent of a street-corner duo, and a longer piece, the first he composed in this series, which combines electronics and percussion - and percussion-triggered electronics - into a more abstract piece of contemporary music. No trumpet this time. The last two tracks by Dafnis Prieto and Emil Harnas 2 are around ten minutes and now bring the two sound worlds together more seamlessly. The percussion works through a range of instruments, thus much better following the lines of the trumpet through
the various sounds it contributes. The last track, 'Ice fishing in Kanona' again adds electronics to build more layers, which, as before, does the piece a lot of good. Nevertheless, all in all (apart from the last tracks), it is not my favourite. I would rather go for that married couple, to be honest. (RSW)

— RSW, 9.05.2023



One innovation in New Music is the use of unique duos, pairing instruments that have no classical precedent. A duo of trumpet and percussion is by no means far out, although another aspect of New Music comes into play, adopting found objects as novel sources of sound. In the title work, Secret Messages II, composer Moshe Shulman calls for a percussion battery that consists of “a bow, wine cups, a table knife, and a plastic water bottle.” The fun of these seemingly zany found objects is how they emit intriguing sounds, especially if you aren’t told in advance what the objects are. In fact, the program notes tell us that “The piece poses the questions: how can such items become musical instruments, what sonic combinations can be created, and how can it still be musical and enjoyable?”

As with all contemporary music, “enjoyable” depends almost entirely on how naïve or seasoned the listener is. Secret Messages II has sonority and atmosphere going for it. Jon Nelson’s trumpet flutters and whines high up in the instrument’s register, at one point giving an uncanny imitation of a mosquito, at other times emitting more conventional fanfares. Percussionist Tom Kolor isn’t going to raise a storm with a plastic water bottle et al., so his part largely consists of quiet tapping, which I take to be something close to typing out the secret messages in the title.

Nelson and Kolor are on the faculty of the University of Buffalo, as are the composers on the program, so we can be assured that each piece is tailor-made. I often find the contemporary genre of instrumental solos aimless and wandering, and at five minutes, Samskara by Dan Ballou stretches the limit of interest, for me at least, from a solo trumpet. Fortunately, the idiom is conventionally tonal and soft-jazzy, well in the zone of accessibility without extremes. The effect is pleasantly poised between improvised and through-composed. Ballou’s second piece, for vibraphone and trumpet, begins by imitating harmonic stasis through sustained long trumpet tones juxtaposed to simple strikes on the vibraphone—it’s an abstract idea that loses interest quickly. Nearly three minutes in, the trumpet utters more than one note at a time, and we get a string of trills against shimmering chords in the vibraphone. Other minimal gestures ensue, all largely unsuccessful in breaking the monotony I experienced.

Next are three short Korals excerpted from a long series by Jeffrey Stadelman. In the order presented here, Koral 17 is a brief display by the solo trumpet of apparently random staccato notes. Koral 18 fits the stated description—it is “meant to invoke street musicians, with Kolor’s percolating castanets and guiros egging on Nelson’s Third Stream-esque melody.” The music is effective for the piece’s 90-second duration, if mild-mannered. Koral 1, scored for percussion and electronics, is substantial by comparison at over five minutes. The program notes at New Focus’s website are again quite accurate about what we hear: The soundscape “places the digital texture in the foreground as the live percussionist plays what Stadelman calls ‘a gamut of clamped, ‘non-musical sonic elements.’” The electronic foreground is a texture of static, soft blips, and beeps that harmonize quite attractively with the modest sound of percussion I couldn’t identify, although soft tapped-out mallet notes predominate. I’ll confess that my interest was held for the first time on the program.

Dafnis Prieto’s Trail of Memories works from the composer’s childhood memories, a surprisingly frequent motif in New Music. But as is also frequent, this description doesn’t accord with the listening experience of a continuous trumpet line underscored with various percussion, chiefly at first drums and vibraphone. Each event is attractive and conservative, and Prieto’s motifs tend to be melodic as well as accessible in mood—the trumpet begins in a martial mood, while other passages are described as playful, wistful, and virtuosic. The overall effect, although I wouldn’t call any passage truly bravura, is appealing and entertaining.

Finally, the longest piece on the program, Ice Fishing in Kanona, is the only adventurous work here, described in the notes with typical opacity as part of Emil Harnas’s “ongoing experiments, hybridizing elements of musique concrète, granular and additive synthesis as well as his own method of agrisynthesis.” It comes as a relief to meet up with a 12-minute panoply of electronica, percussion, and trumpet in a freewheeling session tape that feels like unfettered anarchy. I can’t say that anything fit together except that the performers and electronics were in the same room doing what they felt like—impulsiveness and ingenuity seem to be the key.

For a joint pursuit by colleagues in the same music department, this release holds significance as a personal memento. For the general listener, however, the results are spotty and often surprisingly timid, until the wheels come off in Ice Fishing, my favorite part of the experience.

— Huntley Dent, 3.12.2024

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