Songs for the Soul: Chamber Music by African American Composers Mallarmé Chamber Players Primary Artist
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Description

The title Songs for the Soul and the subtitle Chamber Music by African American Composers may leave the buyer wondering whether the music included is vocal or instrumental; there is actually one sizable vocal piece, William Banfield's Soul Gone Home, along with three instrumental chamber works. The program is well-nigh ideal, and the disc can be recommended for anyone seeking an introduction to contemporary music for small ensembles by black composers. The beauty of it is that the four works, although quite different in style, have a common thread that is persuasively woven into the whole by each composer. That common thread is the presence of African-American vernacular materials, which affects each piece and also gives each composer something to stretch away from a bit. Each work contains sections oriented toward popular African-American materials but then veers off in unexpected ways. Undine Smith Moore's highly underrated Afro-American Suite of 1969 sets spiritual-like materials of the old school against impressionistic textures. Thomas Jefferson Anderson's Spirit Songs for cello and piano (1991) employs a dissonant harmonic languge in embodiments of basic African-American musical events; the central movement, Gospels, Serenades, and Vamps, is an entirely fresh treatment of these ideas. The concluding Grist for the Mill for flute, clarinet, cello, and percussion depicts milling equipment in action, with fixed rhythmic bases and shifting melody instruments in a fundamentally African relationship but a Western approach to musical representation. The most jazz-like work is Banfield's Soul Gone Home, a setting of a short dialogue by {|Langston Hughes|} (the text is included, in English only), but despite the presence of jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon it is not jazz but a classical concert piece, with contemporary operatic declamation that pushes creatively against the jazz percussion. Each work is enjoyable, and the Anderson and Kelley works are real finds; North Carolina's Mallarmé Chamber Players, which commissioned Kelley's piece, play with commitment and sensitivity to the idiom. Editing and proofreading of the booklet notes would have been desirable.

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