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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Melodies (1995) [28:29]
Gradus (1968) [10:45]
Piece in the Shape of a Square (1967) [12:40]
Craig Morris (trumpet)
rec. 2013, Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts
BRIDGE RECORDS 9508 [51:55]

The prospect of over 50 minutes of solo trumpet music might not immediately entice, but the first thing that strikes you about this recording is the mellifluous tone that Craig Morris has. Recorded in a generous acoustic, this is a sound you can live with and revel in – with a light vibrato and expressive phrasing as well as variety in tone and impact.

Philip Glass’s Melodies is a perfect vehicle for this sound. This collection of solos was originally written with saxophone in mind, and intended as incidental music for a play. Morris uses flugelhorn, trumpet with and without mute, and a piccolo trumpet for two of these thirteen pieces, so there is variety inherent in his playing of the set. Glass’s music here is also full of interest, ranging from slow and expressive to jaunty and exuberant – if you were to hear these blind I suspect Philip Glass would be one of the last names you would come up with for their composer. In his booklet note, Craig Morris suggests that, “when heard in one sitting they provide an immersive experience, transporting listener and performer alike into their world – not unlike the solo music of J.S. Bach.”

Gradus comes from the beginning of Glass’s career, using the rhythms which attracted him to Indian music. Extended development of these rhythms and the use of few notes that create a slow harmonic evolution over time are more familiar to fans of Glass, though their expression in a solo instrument creates its own intensity. If you know anything about campanology this might be compared to change ringing, and the subtleties of variation in Gradus certainly have a similar feel.

Piece in the Shape of a Square is the only overdubbed piece here, and there’s a photo on the back of the CD which shows a circle of music stands around which each part moves, presumably using a click-track to keep everything together. The original of this was for two flutes, Glass’s visual concept being to have one player outside and another inside the square, the two players moving in opposite directions around the unfurled score. It’s a shame we don’t have this in surround-sound, but the stereo effect is good enough in communicating the players respective positions. This is high-energy stuff; what Morris calls “a giant dance. One could easily put a big thumping kick drum behind much of the piece and imagine it being played at a dance club.”

Whatever anyone says this is likely to seem a bit of a niche programme at first glance, but I’ve enjoyed it hugely and would recommend it to anyone with a mood to explore. A nice touch is that the release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the September 1968 concert at the Film-Makers Cinematheque that was in part responsible for launching Philip Glass’s enduring and highly successful career.

Dominy Clements

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