Jeremy Gill and Port Mande at National Sawdust

Genre-breaking jazz to Contemporary Classical

By: - Apr 08, 2019

Jeremy Gill and Port Mande
National Sawdust
Brooklyn, New York
April 6 and 7, 2019

Mark Dover and Jeremy Ajani Jordan as Porte Mande joined by Leon Boykins on the bass and Jake Goldbas on drums, Faylotte Crayton, soprano

Jeremy Gill
Lascia Fare mi  Mandy Wolman, Beverly Shin, violin
Six Pensées de Pascal  Rebecca Myers, Abigail Chapman, sopranos
Elisa Sutherland, Mezzo
Nate Barnett, Steven Bradshaw, tenors
Daniel Schwartz, bass
Duo for Violin and Piano
Jesse Mills. violin
Rieko Aizawa, piano
Whitman Portrait
Deborah Lipman, Kristin Sampson, sopranos
Rachel Calloway, Mezzo
Jorell Williams, Baritone
Matthew Burns, Bass-Baritone

Definitions of jazz focus on improvisation.  Yet a jazz performance starts from a basic tune, song or notion from which  improvisation takes place.

Mark Dover and Jeremy Ajari Jordan met five years ago and have grooved together ever since.  Both are consummate musicians, but it is their special passions and their mutual support that is striking.  Dover performed two songs, which had helped him through a particularly tough period. In the first, soprano Faylotte Crayton lofted beautiful, wordless notes.  The second, Dover meditated on, "I am, Here now," which had calmed and focused him.  It was perfectly lovely. 

Throughout the evening, Dover soared on clarinet, often holding notes longer than seemed humanly possible and also having them penetrate the odd geodesic dome of this important performance space.  When he bounced off classical, he brought Schubert’s first song from the Dichterliebe, "Im wunderschönen monat mai"  to new life.  Taking a tune that is so familiar, and weaving it into new textures and dimensions enhanced the original composer. Interpretation, performers say through their instruments, can be more than the music ‘as is.’ Jordan took Debussy’s classic "Claire du Lune" and added perfume and color to luscious effect. 

When Boykins and Goldbas joined, the music rocked. Boykins’ elegant long fingers made a new kind of magic on the strings and Goldbas found ever expressive rhythms on his percussion group. 

The next night honored Jeremy Gill, a young composer who has already won many important awards.  He is a conductor as well. This evening, however, he let the violinists Mandy Wolman and Beverly Shin, speak to each other without his beat. His piece is a marvel of joining violins together and pulling them apart. They can converse in unison and then speed out dramatically in opposite directions. Reading later that the work was based on the film, Last Tango in Paris, one recalled the emptiness of the room in which the assignations had taken place. Stripping away everything, you are left wanting nothing. 

Six songs based on thoughts of Blaise Pascal, a 17th century multi-tasker who was preoccupied with the notion of God, all suggested plainsong chant without ever representing the style.  Instead, the both pensive and urgent ideas of the philosopher were cushioned in luminous arpeggios and sometimes dissonant lines. 

The following duo for piano and violin also had a conversational texture.  Mills on the violin often responded to Aizawa on the piano, who ranged from lush arpeggiation in the upper registers to an almost magisterial thumping of chords. 

The portrait of Whitman, based on the poet's prose, was a New York premiere.  Again there were six singers, sopranos, doubling. Aspects of Whitman’s character stepped out. The soprano Amy Owens had an unusually high range, which the composer pushes to exciting extremes.  Yet Owens never felt forced.

The texts Gill chose were not as focused as Ned Rorem's, Kurt Weill's or Leonard Bernstein's Whitman songs, which take place mainly in the infirmary for wounded Civil War soldiers.  Matthew Aucoin wrote an opera based on Whitman’s nursing work in the Civil War.  Whitman is an attractive subject for composers. Gill's take was particularly juicy. At times, when powerful language might have been insulted by a note, the singers simply spoke, or in one instance, vehemently urged.

Gill brings a quiet to his work from which he builds and to which he then retreats.  There is something satisfying in this bracket, in which we share in the rougher emotions of the interior.

Chris Grymes was the curator of both evenings for National Sawdust and could not have made a richer selection of music and talent.