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John METCALFE
Scorching Bay (2004): Bend in the road; 8; 7 days later; First major upset of the tournament; Scorching Bay; Fabrine; Curve of the sand; Rocket; Cuba Street; Scooter; I don’t remember you wearing a watch; Music for trains
Includes bonus CD: The Inner Line (2002)
John Metcalfe - violin, viola, guitar and piano
Sophie Harris - cello
Richard Pryce – double bass
Ralph Salmins - drums
Recorded England 2004
SANCTUARY CLASSICS, BLACK BOX BBM1082/1 [60:43]

 

Bad luck for those who have already bought John Metcalfe’s Inner Line CD because it comes as a "free" bonus with this one.

Scorching Bay is the name of a beach in New Zealand that Metcalfe used to visit during his childhood. This information is about the limit of that provided in the leaflet apart from the track titles (there are twelve pieces) and the credits. There are a few lines on the musical procedures involved ... which is useful. We are told that, "the composition involved limiting the amount of thematic material and using it in each track with as little incidental music as possible". This means that, in theory at least, the whole disc could be regarded as musically homogeneous. I suspect though, that most listeners will hear the music as a series of easy-listening pieces that chug along in a pleasant enough way employing an impressive array of textures and sound effects. Metcalfe’s music has been described as "genre-defying", and although I would like to think of that description as a virtue, it made me speculate that their may be no such thing. To make sense of new music we probably need to pigeon-hole it simply to get our bearings in order to navigate through it. In my case I have to say that my (admittedly trite) description of the style would be "popular minimalist". By that I mean that some of the principles of the likes of Steve Reich are employed but the music is made more widely accessible in a way that is closer to John Adams and Philip Glass and more obviously to Michael Nyman. But there are many other influences that drag the music away from the minimalist tag including pop styles going back twenty years or so and jazz references that go back further to the Modern Jazz Quartet.

It is the music’s eclecticism that make it "genre–defying". In this respect, John Metcalfe has impeccable credentials. Classically trained, he has an impressive record of non-classical arrangements to his credit including those for Morrissey and George Michael.

I cannot be sure but I dare say that what Metcalfe is hoping to offer is a whole, rich accumulative experience, though I fear that the subtly altering patterns that recur through the pieces will not, in themselves provide that. The impression left is of a series of mesmerising rhythmic sounds (in the minimalist tradition) that do not add up to very much. The trouble, it seems to me, is the lack of musical events – a lack of narrative, both overall and within the pieces. The one I liked most was track 4, First Major Upset of the Tournament, which I thought did have a sense of developing drama, skilfully contrived with exciting contrast between percussion and strings and then a slow lyrical section that moves on to integrate with the previous ideas, building to a climax. It does have a certain economic rigour to it.

A range of chamber forces are imaginatively used by the composer and the music is played with great conviction. Metcalfe does most of his own engineering and the recorded sound is impressive.

The bonus disc, Inner Line, was the first album produced of Metcalfe’s music as composer and it has already been reviewed on this site (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2002/Nov02/metcalfe.htm). I generally agree with Michael Cookson’s verdict on the music which would also apply to Scorching Bay.

If you purchase this double package which comes in a smart box, you cannot go wrong with a bargain that will allow you to taste the fruits of John Metcalfe’s wide-ranging musicianly skills.

John Leeman



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