Monday, December 28, 2020

Grammy®-Nominated Quintet Imani Winds Releases "BRUITS," On Bright Shiny Things Records

The album features three world-premiere recordings of works by composers Vijay Iyer, Reena Esmail, and Frederic Rzewski

On February 5, 2020, Bright Shiny Things Records releases BRUITS [BTSC-0138], by the acclaimed, Grammy®-nominated quintet, IMANI WINDS (Brandon Patrick George, flute; Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe; Mark Dover, clarinet; Jeff Scott, French horn; and Monica Ellis, bassoon). The album’s title, “Bruits,” ([/bro͞ots/] both a homonym and homophone) is a medical term for a vascular murmur, an abnormal sound heard through a stethoscope that is generated by the turbulent flow of blood in an artery that has been obstructed. Imani Winds write: “We are bruited. Our passages are raw, blocked. And we cannot continue this way.” The album features three world-premiere recordings: Vijay Iyer's Bruits; Reena Esmail’s The Light is the Same; and Frederic Rzewski’s Sometimes—all of which speak directly to current social and political issues, and tell stories about people whose lives have made a difference in our world. Additional featured performers on the album include Grammy®-winning pianist Cory Smythe (Bruits), Metropolitan Opera National Council & Operalia award-winning soprano Janai Brugger (Sometimes), and scholar & narrator John Whittington Franklin (Sometimes). 

Pianist, educator and composer Vijay Iyer’s eponymous work uses that clinical image “as a metaphor for the blocked system of justice in today’s society.” Bruits was written during the trial of Trayvon Martin (February 26, 2012), a young black man, and refers to the blockage of justice inherent in the “Stand Your Ground” law, which—though not used by the defense lawyers—was nevertheless included in the instructions to the jury. Bruits was commissioned by the Hermitage Artist Retreat in Sarasota, and composed for Imani Winds while Iyer was in residence there in 2014.
Bruits is powerful. It is provocative. It is timely. It is heart-wrenching,” writes Monica Ellis. “It makes both the listener and the performer—especially me, as a performer and the mother of a Black boy—feel a way that few pieces of music allow.”
Composed in five movements, Bruits opens with “Gulf,” a movement which “has a pulse to it that is reminiscent of the free-flowing, fast-moving pace of a bustling city seen with a drone’s-eye view,” writes oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz. The second movement, “Force,” includes a reading of the “Stand Your Ground” law. Spellman-Diaz compares the third movement, “Wake,” to “jumping on a moving train” with a groove that never stops. “Flocks,” the fourth movement, ends with the words of mother, gun control activist, and Georgia congresswoman, Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was shot and killed ten months after Trayvon Martin while he sat in a car at a gas station with a friend. “The movement is tricky to perform, Spellman-Diaz writes, “and you have to listen carefully to catch the notes that everyone else is playing.” The final movement, “Mass, “begins with individual expression, and builds to a collective scream at the end.”
Commissioned by Imani Winds and written in 2016, Reena Esmail’s The Light Is The Same uses two contrasting Hindustani raags—Vachaspati (dark and brooding) and Yaman (light and innocent), which have almost identical notes, but when they are played sound very different. Esmail uses these two raags to symbolize “how we are so close to each other and are separated by so little, like people from different cultures looking at the same stars and imagining totally different meanings, but the light is the same,” writes Spellman-Diaz. “If we are to live in the Light, which we should all aspire to do, we must recognize our sameness,” adds Ellis.
Conceived as a companion piece for a new quintet arrangement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets (which celebrated its centennial in 2016) Esmail composed The Light Is The Same while “trying to make sense of what was happening in our country and in our world” at the end of that year. The title comes from a poem by the Sufi poet Rumi:
Religions are many
But God is one
The lamps may be different
But the Light is the same
Dr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), the subject of Frederic Rzewski’s Sometimes, was a historian who wrote about the Reconstruction era of American history, the time right after the Civil War, “when people of color (particularly African-Americans) were first allowed to hold political offices, become judges, and had hitherto unknown economic and social freedom,” Spellman-Diaz explains. “Dr. Franklin used his knowledge to advise American presidents, social activists, and people around the world on how to build equitable businesses, governments, and communities that worked for all people.” Among his numerous honors, Dr. Franklin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Sometimes was commissioned by Duke University in 2015 as part of its centennial celebration of Dr. Franklin’s life.
Sometimes juxtaposes Franklin’s words of hope (read by the historian’s son, John Whittington Franklin) and Langston Hughes’ heartbreaking poem, “God to the Hungry Child” (sung by Janai Brugger). These texts serve as foils for each other, addressing how we can and how we should not interact as a society. The spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” (which Rzewski remembers he loved to hear sung on the radio in his childhood by his hero Paul Robeson) is deconstructed (the opposite of reconstruction!) into a theme and variations. With the deconstruction of an ideal, the piece “falls in and on itself just to come out on the other side with the painful words of poet Langston Hughes,” writes Monica Ellis. “How exciting it is to hear the bookends of a piece of music [in which] words and music are juxtaposed to tell a snippet of the expansive, complex and gorgeous story of my people.” 

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