Stuart Saunders Smith

Stuart Saunders Smith: The Links Series of Vibraphone Essays

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The name of American composer Stuart Saunders Smith, born in 1948, is not likely known to broad audiences because he has devoted much of his career to writing for the kinds of ensembles that don't tend to get lots of popular exposure: instrumental solos and eccentrically constituted small groups, frequently involving percussion. His music is sometimes categorized as avant-garde, but his is an individual voice, not indebted to any particular compositional system or school, and his thoughtful, introspective, and colorful music deserves to be better known among fans of new music. He wrote the 11 pieces of The Links Series of Vibraphone Essays over a period of decades, starting in 1974 and ending in 1994. The most noticeable things about the series is how thoroughly Smith explores a particular kind of soundworld -- glistening, shimmering, largely in the instrument's upper register -- without resorting to the clich├ęd tremolos of vibraphone writing. The harmonic language is atonal and its complexly juxtaposed rhythms must be outrageously difficult to play, but the music frequently evokes the sparkling brightness and mystery of a starry night. Some of the Links use other instruments, including piano and flute, and the 11th is scored for three vibraphones. Each of the Links is played by a different performer, and each performance is a marvel of technical brilliance and interpretive subtlety. The sound is clean, bright, and present. The album opens with a statement by the composer's wife, percussionist and publisher Sylvia Smith, which, in the skill of its unsentimental but touching composition and delivery, has the effect of a piece of performance art that perfectly matches the restraint and poise of Smith's music.

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