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Jesse JONES (b. 1978)
Abraxas (2013) [12:23]*
Ephemera (2014) [10:54]
Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses (2011) [22:31]**
Unisono (2011) [10:08]
The Mystery which Binds me Still (2016) [14:36]
Argento Chamber Ensemble*
Xak Bjerken (piano, Ephemera and Unisono)
Sharon Harms (soprano: Harmonies and The Mystery…)
Lambert Bumiller (speaker), ensemble recherché**
Joseph Eller (clarinet) and Nicholas DiEugenio (violin Unisono)
Kenneth Meyer (guitar, The Mystery…)
rec. University of South Carolina Recital Hall and Ensemblehaus (Harmonies); Subcat Studios, Syracuse (The Mystery).
INNOVA 980 [70:33]

American composer, conductor, and mandolinist Jesse Jones has been recognised both as a composer and performer with awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Elliott Carter Rome Prize in Composition from the American Academy in Rome, the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and numerous top-flight commissions.

This substantial collection of works commences with Abraxas for clarinet, bassoon, horn, piano, string quartet and double bass. The title comes from Herman Hesse´s novel Demian, from a passage that is symbolic and apocalyptic: “Who would be born must first destroy the world.” The implication and expression is quite doom-laden, with quarter-tone intervals blurring tonality, and extremes of timbre employed to fray the edges of a work that has quite a clear programme built into its structural development.

By contrast, Ephemera for solo piano casts a romantic spell from the outset in the expansive nature of its opening gesture. This title refers to the “evanescent nature of life”, reflected in that of music as it dissipates from the air. This is a personal depiction of the composer’s late mother in music, poetically expressed in often late-Romantic pianism, but with a powerful central core that steers a confident path.

The texts of the vocal works are given in the foldout sheet for this CD, and Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses uses words by Alphonse de Lamartine. “Faith and devotion are themes central to Lamartine’s beautifully symbolic text, and I wanted to convey an element of hope, of religious fervour, of the comfort and meditative calm that one gains from prayer…” There is again a frisson of personal struggle here, as Jones also indicates that he was in the throes of leaving his own long-term religion as the piece was being composed, his thoughts vacillating “between belief and disbelief, piety and apostasy.” This uneasy mixture results in extended stresses that also dip into passages of quite disarming directness of expression, even evoking the spirit of Frank Martin at one point. There are seven movements that include two instrumental interludes, through these are not identified by access points on the CD, which is a bit of a shame. Going far beyond mere word setting, this is a fascinating piece that by no means outstays its 22-minute duration.

Unisono is described as “a virtuosic barnburner of a piece”, deliberately written to showcase the talents of the musicians. The rhythmic co-ordination demanded is indeed something to behold, and this trio nails every bar. There is also plenty of gorgeous sonority as well as a fever-pitch build-up in a piece that is both spectacular and memorable.

The Mystery which Binds me Still is a setting of ‘Alone’ by Edgar Allan Poe. This is a text that can be read in many ways, but for this work Jones sees it as “an inward commentary about depression.” The running guitar notes create a sense of flow from the outset, while a halo of sympathetic electronic sounds creates the kind of haunting mood that suits Poe’s ‘doleful’ imagery very well indeed.

Superbly performed and well recorded, this is a very fine collection of contemporary music by what is clearly one of America’s most worthwhile voices. Presentation is innova’s usual slimline card, and documentation with commentary on each piece by the composer is most satisfactory.

Dominy Clements



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