Lecolion Washington, Jr.

Legacy: Works for Bassoon by African-American Composers

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Bassoonist Lecolion Washington, a professor at the University of Memphis, may seem to have picked a quintessentially small slice of the musical universe with this disc of bassoon music by African-American composers, but the disc turns out to be a sterling demonstration of the variety of this least understood branch of the great tree of black music. All the music here with the exception of the opening three songs by William Grant Still, which work beautifully on the instrument, were composed for the bassoon. The music was composed at various times, by very different composers, but Washington identifies a common thread running through them all: the desire to acknowledge African-American vernacular traditions without leaving the realm of contemporary concert music. The Bassoon Set by Adolphus Hailstork, for bassoon solo, is delightful, with shifting-direction arpeggios reminiscent of jazz solos, but with little reference to jazz rhythms. The pieces by Ed Bland entitled One on One, which may be (and here are) realized by various instrumental combinations, are inspired by parking lot one-on-one basketball games, and Bland's For Bassoon (1979) is another solo piece, this one verging on pure comedy. The Flint, MI-born composer Gary Powell Nash's Deformation V for bassoon and piano after J.S. Bach's Allegro from Sonata II in A minor for solo violin breaks a tune apart in a manner that recalls both Stravinsky and the far edges of modern jazz. The presence of a Swedish folk song on the program is due to its service as the basis for Daniel Bernard Roumain's Lecolion Loops, commissioned by Washington in honor of his Swedish-born wife, clarinetist Carina Nyberg Washington, and of the birth of their son, Henning. Despite the name, it is a trio for purely acoustic instruments: bassoon, clarinet, and piano. The Haitian-born Roumain is billed as a composer who fuses classical and hip-hop influences, but the "loops" and "samples" of the Swedish song heard here resemble minimalist treatments instead. Only the Sonata for bassoon and piano by Ulysses Kay, a work reflecting the composer's study with Paul Hindemith, stands somewhat away from the group, but it showcases Washington's fine singing tone on the bassoon. The booklet to this disc needed an editor's attention, but the music is something of an unexpected pleasure.

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