Wally Gunn: The Ascendant appeared as one of a pair of 2020 releases by the vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, the other being Michael Harrison: Just Constellations. The two releases are separate and feature music by two different composers, but they are also counterparts, exploring facets of the creativity of Roomful of Teeth, and also of producer Jesse Lewis, who earned a Producer of the Year Grammy nomination for his work on these two albums and others. Where Harrison's work is pristine and minimalist, Gunn's has solo and choral vocal texts on existential themes by Maria Zajkowski, with percussion patterns by Jason Treuting. The six sections of the work might be called a song cycle, with the pitch content and rhythms tracing the texts' approach to death and transcendent retreat from it, but the pieces may be approached separately (and indeed, some have been recorded before). Their primary attraction is that they seem simple, with propulsive rhythms, but are actually layered, with hocket and other rhythmic subtleties. The performances all have a kind of hypnotic precision, thanks not only to the performances but also to Lewis' sound environment, quite different from that on Michael Harrison: Just Constellations.
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