Music and Opera reporting on is made possible by The University of North Texas College of Music.
Select the link below to discover more.

Review: Music from Yellow Barn: Songs of Refuge and Resistance | Soundings: New Music at the Nasher | Nasher Sculpture Center

A Lot of Brass

The Nasher Sculpture Center's Soundings series opened with an unusual jazz concert. We wouldn't expect less.

published Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Westerlies


DallasSoundings, a series of modernist music presented in the downstairs theater at the Nasher Sculpture Center, turned to progressive jazz on Friday evening. It was not jazz you might hear in a club or on a jazz station — but Soundings isn’t known for being conventional.

It was a jazz combo with an unusual mix of instruments. Theo Bleckmann, a Grammy-nominated jazz singer, was assisted by some electronic manipulation. Where it got strange was using The Westerlies, a quartet made up of two trombones and two trumpets, to back him up. None of the more predictable participants — piano, bass, drums — were present.

The Westerlies are a New York-based brass quartet made up of Riley Mulherkar and Chloe Rowlands on trumpet, and Andy Clausen and Willem de Koch on trombone. They last made a local appearance, sans singer, as part of the Cliburn Sessions at the Scat Jazz Lounge in March 2018.

Photo: Lynne Harty
Theo Bleckmann

The set we heard was developed in 2018 at Yellow Barn, a summer music retreat run by Seth Knopp, who is also the Artistic Director of Soundings. They named it “Songs of Refuge and Resistance.” Words were furnished in a program insert but the type was too small, not to mention printed on colored paper, to be helpful.

Many of the songs they riffed on were by familiar composers, but the music itself was only vaguely recognizable. The music consisted of an assortment of original compositions from Bleckmann and members of the quartet, as well as songs from Joni Mitchell, Woody Guthrie, Bertolt Brecht and Paul Dessau, Judee Sill, Phil Kline, and even a satire written by legendary union organizer Joe Hill.

Typically, jazz states a tune and then develops it by improvisation and passing it around the ensemble so everyone gets a chance to give it a run. Such was not the case here. The four brass players played from written parts, although there were many aleatoric passages that allowed some leeway.  They mostly played together, like any classical brass quartet would do, with an occasional solo for one or the other.

The harmonies were basically tonal with atonal notes inserted here and there. The problem with this is that when there are only four parts, three with a triad and one adding a dissonant tone, it sounds like a wrong note.

In addition, the brass players frequently used alternative playing methods that made unusual sounds. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this in a larger ensemble or in a solo role, but it gave the quartet an odd overall sound when used and affected intonation.  The fact that the brass players were amplified in such a relatively small space didn’t help.

Bleckmann has a lovely lyric voice that is perfectly placed and has a very wide range. He uses it sparingly, rarely rising above a mezzo forte. He also was amplified but his easy approach made a better effect than an amplified trumpet pointed into a microphone.

What was outstanding was his creative use of electronic enhancements. We are used to hearing this in rock and pop, but his use of it was novel and quite effective. A prerecorded soundtrack, combined with some recorded on the spot, created an ethereal and haunting sound. In one song, a single note at the end of a song was sustained way beyond the abilities of the human lung.

This performance was a new sound to me, somewhat reminiscent of the wild days of classical music experimentation in the 1970’s. The audience must have been more accustomed to the genre and gave them a rousing ovation. Thanks For Reading

View the Article Slideshow
Click or Swipe to close
A Lot of Brass
The Nasher Sculpture Center's Soundings series opened with an unusual jazz concert. We wouldn't expect less.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :