Tag this one Terrific
Elena Kats-Chernin
Randall Woolf
Armando Luna
Present Music
Catalog Number: 
new classical
new music

Detroit, MI

Release Date: 
Mar 30, 2010
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
One Sheet: 

Present Music, Milwaukee’s all-star chamber ensemble, has inspired a huge and devoted fan base for its fearless embrace of new and unusual music: they have won ASCAP/Chamber Music America’s Adventurous Programming Award an unprecedented five times in the past dozen years.  And it’s no wonder, when the group led by Kevin Stahlheim has given birth to so many cool projects and pleasant musical discoveries over the years.  Graffiti, this collection of three commissioned works from around the world, represents a few choice plums from their 25th anniversary season in 2006-07.

Each of the works deals with roots, mental states, and memory in one way or another.  Elena Kats-Chernin, born in Tashkent and living in Australia, wrote “Village Idiot” for an exhibition of paintings by schizophrenic artists, including her son.  The chaotic thought patterns, hyper energy and flashes of profundity can be heard in the opening salvo: pure electricity of harpsichord and strings joined by electric guitar and driving horns that lapse into strains of tango.

Randall Woolf grew up in Detroit in the ‘60s, his memories of its happy neighborhoods forever shattered by the 1967 riots.  In “Motor City Requiem” he looks back wistfully at the spray-painted wreckage: fragments of distorted Motown songs echoing through the world of piano and strings: an urban elegy for childhood.

Mexican Armando Luna’s “Graffiti” comes at you with a nod and a wink as he uses the styles of Bach, Bartok, Benny Goodman and others as the starting off point for his own gleefully raucous and busy idiom.  This graffiti is not so much a blight as a sly and joyful adding of a mustache to our beloved musical icons.


As new(er) generations of jazz performers feel free to absorb non-jazz sounds, young “classical” composers have been reaching beyond the tradition of notated music. True, for decades composers have been impacted by jazz (Copeland, Stravinsky, Milhaud, Leonard Bernstein, etc.) and by the folk music of their environs and beyond (Bartok, Lou Harrison), but now they embrace [gasp] popular music: rock, R&B, turntablism, and sampling. Three such contemporary composing hepcats are represented here, performed by the Wisconsin-based contempo-classical ensemble Present Music. And believe it or leave it, this disc will be likely of (great) interest to fans of jazz, rock, and fusions thereof!

Armando Luna’s “Graffiti” consists of 11 “movements”/vignettes named for a inspiration/role model, including Benny Goodman, Chick Corea, G. Gershwin, and Alberto Ginastera. It’s a bracing kaleidoscope of 20th century modes and styles, with the accent on bracing—there’s nothing academic or didactic about this as a whole. In point of fact, it recalls the more elaborate extended instrumental works of Frank Zappa (including his wry, pointed, sometimes zany humor). Elena Kats-Chernin’s “Village Idiot” is a tour through aspects of Americana—Spike Jones, Charles Ives, Phillip Glass, Grant Green (listen close to the guitar part), Brian Wilson, Bernard Herrmann, plus hints of baroque forms. This name-dropping is not meant to imply this work is derivative—Kats-Chernin’s breezy, good-humored composition evokes the essences of the aforementioned. Randall Woolf’s song-like, rhythmic and nostalgic “Motor City Requiem” is a tribute to pre-riots 1960s Detroit and features samples of that decade’s soul/R&B.

Although the following is redolent of cliché, it fits: Graffiti is an ideal disc for jazz/rock/classical/etc. fans thinking 21st century notated music is inhospitable, dry, a lot of noise, and/or academic. Try it—it’ll be good for you.

- Mark Keresman, Jazz Review