The Music of Ann Millikan Featuring the California EAR Unit

The Music of Ann Millikan Featuring the California EAR Unit

From one jungle to another
Ann Millikan
California EAR Unit
Marc Lowenstern
Nicholas Terry
Pat O'Keefe
Catalog Number: 
new classical

Los Angeles, CA

Release Date: 
May 1, 2007
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Ann Millikan's debut album is a remarkably dynamic, diverse collection of compositions written especially for the California EAR Unit – a.k.a. the "wizards of new music" (LA Daily News). A fete for EAR Unit fans, this is music that shows off the virtuosity and versatility these musicians are known for.

What quickly stands out is Millikan's complex use of rhythm, which without a doubt has a taproot drawing on her background in jazz, African and Brazilian music. Polyrhythmic textures are the propelling force in these works, and her angular lines and quirky phrasing surprise and intrigue. As Millikan tells it, "My teacher Mel Powell – also a former jazz pianist – continually encouraged me to keep my jazz knowledge alive in my music, and I always have."

Major works on the disc are The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith, commissioned for the EAR Unit, and Cantando Para A Onça – a quartet with Amy Knoles (percussion), Vicki Ray (piano), and guest artists Pat O'Keefe (clarinet) and Nick Terry (percussion II) – some of the most visceral, absorbing music on the album. The percussion is electrifying, a must hear. The title translates "Singing for Jaguar" and is inspired after a story the composer wrote for her Brazilian nephew. A copy of the story is available on this Enhanced CD. Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick (cello) and Dorothy Stone (flute) are superbly featured in The Woodcarver & The Blacksmith. Gorgeous subtle textures compel this work, with masterful playing by Duke-Kirkpatrick and Stone. Here is the stasis end of Millikan's compositional spectrum, where shifting sound worlds of clusters and modalism layer with expressive solos. Three Reflections, dedicated to the late Stephen L. Mosko, and featuring violinist Mark Menzies, is also of this vein. 221B Baker Street, a rousing farewell on electric/processed instruments, finishes the album with the exuberant flash of an encore after a night's stellar performance. Applause well deserved.

The California EAR Unit is a Los Angeles-based new music ensemble dedicated to the performance, promotion and creation of the exciting music of our time. Founded in 1981, the group has brought unparalleled versatility, virtuosity and dedication to its performances and is recognized today as one of America's finest contemporary chamber ensembles. Saint Paul-based composer ANN MILLIKAN, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, received her MFA in Composition from CalArts where her mentors were Mel Powell, Morton Subotnick, and Stephen L. Mosko, and her BA in Music–Jazz Concentration (jazz piano, voice, composition) from San Jose State University. She has studied West African percussion from Ghana and Senegal, and with family living in Brazil, has been deeply influenced by Brazilian music from an early age.



This disc is my first encounter with Ann Millikan’s music, and I’m pretty impressed. She knows instruments, has a good command of harmony and structure, and a solid sense of style. Make that “styles”. There’s a little something here for everyone. Ms. Millikan’s eclectic music moves seamlessly (usually) between such diverse stylistic poles as late modernism, totalism, jazz, and expanded tonality. My favorite piece is Red Migration, a taut (seven and a half minutes packed with incident) exploration of the emotions involved with moving halfway across the country. The gestures and recurring motives are vivid and expressive, and as with everything else on the disc, expertly written for the instruments. Less successful, for me at least, is 221B Baker Street, which is, in the composer’s words, a “quirky jazz/rock detective story inspired by the brilliant Sherlock Holmes series portrayed by Jeremy Brett”. It’s built on a 5:4 groove but seemed less groovy than that. It may be that I’ve been listening to a lot of Stevie Wonder lately and his grooves are more satisfying. The California EAR Unit gives incredibly clean and committed performances and Innova’s sound is clear and detailed. Recommended.

by Steve Hicken


Il linguaggio di Ann Millikan, è un personale crogiolo compositivo dove, si vengono ad incontrare, influenze etniche (Sud America, Africa), spunti jazz, tensioni avanguardiste che flirtano con un'elettronica meditabonda; silenzi e visione. Attitudine da camera mancante di una parete, colori idealmente sempre accesi, possiede la visione appunto. Quella peculiare capacità di evocare, di materializzare spazi dalla temporalità incerta (la notevole Red Migration che si muove chiaroscurale fra disorientamento e scarti di gioia improvvisa; l'incantevole incastro fra piano e violino). Una ricerca costante che la porta ad inglobare nel suo porsi, Morton Feldman e Milton Nascimento, Morton Subotnick e l'alba sonnacchiosa, etilica, post serata indiavolata di ballo popolare sotto il cielo stellato. Eseguite e composte da/per il California EAR Unit (ensemble di Los Angeles dedito alla performance e promozione di nuova musica contemporanea), gli otto segmenti espressivi proposti in questa occasione, coprono un lasso temporale che va dal 1999 al 2005, ognuno di questi, caratterizzato da inserti destabilizzanti che, con leggera semplicità; eludono abilmente il senso di noia riscontrabile in analoghe operazioni di genere. La stasi/tensione contemplativa su più livelli di The Woodcarver E The Blacksmith, l'inflessione da frontiera polverosa impressa dalle corde, quel sottile rimando al Jimmy Garrison Coltraniano, il jazz/rock pulsante finale, ispirato a Sherlock Holmes (!), la strumentazione elettronicamente alterata che si lascia andare ad una nuova, futura, ipotesi sghemba. Tira aria libera nella testa di Ann! Colorata, impetuosa e personale. Altra nuova, intrigante proposta da parte di casa Innova. Ottimo.

by Marco Carcasi


The music of American composer Ann Millikan is genuinely eclectic. Her background includes traditional classical training, experience as a jazz performer, and a residency with the new music ensemble, the California EAR Unit, and the music on this album reflects all those influences, as well as rock and the folk traditions of Africa and Brazil. Her work is characterized by high energy and a quirky inventiveness that defies easy categorization. Most of the works recorded here, for ensembles from three to seven members, require the performers to use a number of instruments, including a variety of unconventional percussion such as metal bowls, thunder tube and water tam-tam. Her scoring is clean and transparent and her felicities of orchestration are among the most attractive elements in her work. Her pieces have descriptive titles and are all strongly evocative. Three Reflections, a sort of miniature violin concerto with an accompaniment of alto flute, bass clarinet, vibraphone, piano and cello, and the meditative The Woodcarver & the Blacksmith, for the same ensemble, are particularly effective. The California Ear Unit performs her music with conviction and musicality, and the sound quality is clear and present.

by Stephen Eddins