Somehow We Can

Alvin Singleton

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Somehow We Can Review

by Eugene Chadbourne

With all of this man's academic credentials, grants and composer-in-residence positions, he could probably get by without establishing an audience. That would certainly be a shame, since Alvin Singleton's music seems at times like it could feed the hungry. At any rate, the four pieces presented in this extremely well-planned collection share a compassionate blend of exciting, intriguing musical action and lovely, yearning passages of lyricism -- a fine meal for any listener.

Singleton's audience overlaps the artificially divided worlds of classical music and jazz. Key to establishing that dynamic, indeed the very action that might get someone in trouble with the uptight listener, is improvisation. To determine what is improvised and what is composed through these four pieces -- lasting in duration between slightly under 10 and 15 minutes each -- would be sheer guesswork. The performance of pianist Anthony Davis and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, whose long-standing relationship includes collaboration in several ensembles also dealing with this mix of approaches, is remarkable in many ways. Most striking to a listener who is familiar with these groups such as New Dalta Ahkri or Golden Quartet is how completely the two players avoid trappings of any of their past musical communication, instead creating something remarkably new, as if they had never played together before.

Smith's use of a mute makes his instrument seem to shrink in size, becoming effectively a mosquito by the end of one particular section. Fine as this duet as, it is only one highlight of a program that truly can be described as all highlights. In the first listening it was the final "Again" that made the greatest impression. A chamber orchestra piece written in 1979, there is unfortunately no further information regarding the performance included here, not even the names of players in an appalling lapse of this label's usual meticulous attention to providing any information requiring further squinting. The CD's title piece is a string quartet, both the piece and the group named in honor of the great vocalist Marian Anderson. The composer effectively uses the instruments to create an impression of the human voice, sometimes speaking alone, sometimes raised in a kind of aggressive rabble. Wonderful moments of melody float through, bringing to mind Duke Ellington's quote about grey skies being "clouds passing over." Similarly the mesmerizing "Mookestueck" uses loop playback and pile-up to create an orchestration from the five-string viola sound of Martha Mooke, again taking the listener to a place of tranquility. This time, however, Singleton nibbles between the cracks, overtones of the violas suggesting that something is melting -- it would be nice if it was our society.

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