Born in Bad Gastein
in Austria, Gernot Wolfgang is one of that increasingly common
breed of contemporary musicians equally at home in a variety
of musical genres. He initially made a reputation as a jazz
guitarist, playing with the QuARTet in Europe and recording
a couple of well-received CDs in 1992 and 1995; his jazz compositions
have been recorded by significant musicians such as the tenor
player Harry Sokal, and guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel (on a
recording with tenor player Bob Berg). Between 1990 and 93
Gernot Wolfgang taught Jazz Composition, Harmony and Ensemble
at the Hochschule für Musik and Darstellende Kunst in Graz
in Austria. He studied film scoring at Berklee College of
Music and the University of Southern California. He has since
worked on the music for a number of feature films and TV shows.
He lives in Los Angeles and continues to work in the Film
and TV industry as a composer and arranger.
In parallel, Wolfgang
has also written plenty of concert music – included work to
commissions by such bodies as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
(Desert Wind, 2006) and the Tiroler Kammerorchester
InnStrumenti (Alpine Story, for string orchestra and
Here we have a
selection of recent chamber works. The CD on which they are
collected carries the subtitle “Groove-Oriented Chamber Music”.
Given Wolfgang’s own musical background, I think this subtitle
is somewhat misleading. In a brief booklet note, Wolfgang
a former jazz guitarist, rhythms are a top priority for me.
Specifically, rhythms (grooves) that can be found in 20th
century music styles such as jazz, rock and roll, pop, world
music, electronica etc … I have made it my mission to find
ways of organically incorporating grooves into orchestral
or chamber music settings, hence the subtitle of this CD.
That doesn’t mean that all of the music is based on grooves
all of the time, but grooves play important roles within the
individual pieces. My goal is to allow them to have an equal
standing among the other compositional devices already established
in contemporary concert music.”
an article called ‘The Power of Groove’, excerpts from which
are available on Gernot’s website (http://www.gernotwolfgang.com/),
the composer states his belief that “if we fully integrate
grooves into the concert music world, it will have the most
positive effects on all of us. The grooves, when written and
played right, will serve as points of reference to young audiences
and make it more attractive for them to listen to what we
do. On the way we will also have introduced an element for
our own enjoyment, adding lots of positive energy, excitement
and fun to our performances”.
the listener, young or old, who comes to this music with ideas
/ expectations about ‘grooves’ built up perhaps from the experience
of listening to, say, James Brown or the Black Eyed Peas,
or, for that matter, to Miles Davis or Tito Puente, would,
I suspect, give up pretty early on and leave disappointed.
The ‘grooves’ in this music are simply not compelling enough,
nor prominent enough, to satisfy tastes formed in such ways.
On the other hand, a reasonably open-minded listener familiar
with modern chamber music and approaching from that direction,
as it were, is likely to find a great deal to enjoy here.
music is inventive and lively. Metamorphosis
repeats a single theme a number
of times, viewing it from different
angles, placing it in a series of
changing musical contexts. In Common
Ground Wolfgang demonstrates
just how attractive the combination
of bassoon and cello can be. The
work is in three parts. The first
‘Blues Upside Down’, is fairly rapid,
its blues inflections handled with
wit and the whole having a distinct
swing (or ‘groove’, if you like).
The second section, ‘Trading Places’,
slower and more lyrical, gets its
title from the way in which the
two instruments change places, as
it were, during it – the music played
by the bassoon is transferred to
the cello at its close, and vive-versa.
Though there are some repetitive
rhythmical patterns in places, I’m
not sure that much is gained, in
the way of understanding their function,
by calling them ‘grooves’. The closing
section, ‘Igor At Last’ –
so-named because of a passing resemblance
to Stravinsky’s Concerto in D for
string orchestra – redeploys music
from the two earlier movements,
in an idiom which might be described
as a rather polite kind of funk.
Wolfgang writes very well and sympathetically
for the bassoon, as in Dual Identity,
for solo bassoon. Making some use
of multiphonics, it is something
of a demonstration piece for the
soloist, but is more than just that,
having a genuine musical argument
to offer. The excellent soloist,
Judith Farmer, is actually Wolfgang’s
wife – so perhaps his obvious understanding
of the instrument’s possibilities
has an obvious source.
and Cocktails is an entertaining musical conversation,
the musical equivalent of sophisticated talk over cocktails,
with jazz in the background. There are what Shakespeare called
“set[s] of wit well played” as ideas are sent backwards and
forwards between instruments; there are rather domineering
monologues, when one instrument or another seems unwilling
to listen to its fellows; there are frequent changes of mood.
The composer’s note tells us the piece “contains references
to a number of my favourite composers and performers … Duke
Ellington, Dmitri Shostakovich, McCoy Tyner and Maurice ravel
are being paid tribute to at one point or another”. I confess
that I didn’t pick up on all these allusions, but I still
enjoyed the piece. Thin Air is a programmatic piece
of a rather different kind. It is a musical response to a
visit to the California Sierras, its three sections – ‘Mountain
Goat’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Paws’ – are pictorial in various ways
and Wofgang’s experience as a writer of film scores is perhaps
one reason why he proves so adept at this exercise. Night
Shift, for solo piano, is a pleasant, wistful piece, an
introductory lullaby leading into some nocturne-like passages;
the whole has a quasi-improvisatory feel about it and is well
played by Delores Stevens, though it is in danger of overstaying
its welcome at more than eight minutes.
recorded sound is good throughout. The performances all sound
convincing and were made under the supervision of the composer,
who is listed as one of two producers. So, though I have my
reservations about quite how prominent ‘grooves’ really are
in this music, this is a CD which has already rewarded several
hearings. I shall certainly return to it before too long.
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