Brian Chin

Universal Language

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The project planning behind Seattle trumpeter Brian Chin's album Universal Language is an admirable one; the concert music tradition can only be perpetuated and enriched by projects like this one, which draw on local performance and compositional resources and thus embed themselves in the musical lives of local communities. The technical execution is even better. Playing new and unknown compositions, Chin demonstrates an impressive range that includes the lovely hushed lyricism of the middle movement of Daniel Bukvich's Sonata for trumpet and piano (which is in three separate movements despite being contained in a single track on the album), subtle dialogue with a vocal soloist in the title work by Jason Berg, and the narrative details of the strongest work on the album, Edward Castro's Fractured Trance. The three movements of this work seem to bear the imprint of jazz, not in rhythmic terms but in the way the ideas are deepened and developed in a seemingly improvisatory way, and Chin deftly handles the balance between spontaneity and overall structure. The contributions of soprano Lisa Cardwell Pontén to the title work, Jason Berg's Universal Language, are less consistently successful. The songs are written in a deadly high part of the soprano range in which Pontén's sound is thin. The work is "based on" poems of Daisaku Ikeda, apparently in English translation; it's not clear what this means, and in general the booklet is sparse. A page is given over to general proclamations about the power of music: it evokes "our desire to fight poverty, to dispel ignorance, to develop a sense of interconnectedness and to protect our children's future." The work represented a "Universal Language Project" that "strives to create new music capable of transcending differences while seeking a unique sound and fresh aesthetic. We have much in common." It is hard, however, to see a connection between these goals and the music on the album, which all draws from the same pool of stylistically conservative, generally tonal American styles, and perhaps the conceptual reach of the project somewhat exceeds its grasp for the time being.

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