Kate Amrine: As I Am
As I Am is an intensely personal portrait of NYC-based trumpeter Kate Amrine, not in the sense of disclosing intimate details about her life or personality (though the album content does allow for some degree of that to be extrapolated from it) but in being a project obviously very close to her heart. Rather than select pieces from the established repertoire, for her debut album she assembled a programme of new music for trumpet by women composers, with half of the pieces commissioned by her for the project. Works by Alexandra Gardner, Ariel Marx, Jennifer Higdon, Jessica Rudman, Jinhee Han, Ledah Finck, Nicole Piunno, and Amrine herself are featured, with the trumpeter in some cases performing solo and with one or two others in the rest. It's a wide-ranging set including everything from experimental, electronics-enhanced material to lyrical pieces, the connecting thread in all of it Amrine's horn. In engaging with the material so genuinely, she honours the composers featured on this beguiling collection.
Amrine, who earned her Master's degree at Peabody Conservatory, brings a wealth of experience to the album. Along with being a strong advocate for female composers and female brass players, she freelances with many different groups in the New York City area, often performs on Broadway and with other musical theater groups, and recently toured Japan with the New York Symphonic Ensemble. She's also an Adjunct Instructor at New York University, where she has been giving private lessons to undergraduates since 2013, and she both maintains a private studio and teaches a group trumpet class for elementary school students at an after-school program in Harlem.
Scored for trumpet, harp, and electronics, Gardner's Ituri offers a powerful spotlight for Amrine's full, rich tone and her experimental side. In this somewhat mystery-laden evocation, electronics flutter and tribal percussive elements pitter-patter alongside Peggy Houng's spidery strums and the trumpeter's wistful musings. Here and elsewhere, the range of sounds Amrine coaxes from the horn is considerable, with its burnished tone at times resembling a French horn and its brassier tendencies downplayed. Extended techniques are sometimes utilized, with Amrine blowing through the mouthpiece, for example, in this boldly adventurous scene-setter.
Drawn from Greek mythology, Marx's Cassiopeia, for two trumpets and electronics, was inspired by the imagery of Cassiopeia spinning, both right side up and right side down, and clinging for dear life, imagery conveyed by the composer in cyclical interactions that occur between the instruments. In this entrancing piece, guitar-like timbres contrast effectively with the trumpets, all three elements of which arrest the ear in the way they dizzyingly echo one another. For Hill and Holler, which pairs Amrine with the composer on violin and Louna Dekker-Vargas on alto flute, Finck celebrated her grandmother Paula by weaving into the compositional structure vocal treatments of texts from Under the Silver Maple, the first of two poetry booklets she produced. It's an affectionate portrait that's rather more rustic and folk-like than the album's other pieces, but no less satisfying for being so, especially when Ledah manages to translate her grandmother's appreciation for nature into musical (and vocal) form. The singing isn't polished in the professional sense, yet the voices' natural delivery possesses a charm that might have been lacking in a more refined presentation.
The album's high point is Higdon's Trumpet Songs, a lovely, five-part suite whose lyrical themes Amrine and pianist Borah Han render with deep feeling. Originally a piece for soprano voice, the composition was later adapted for trumpet, much to our good fortune. Stately and dignified, Higdon's material evokes the beauty of nature and the longing one feels for an absent love, sentiments the musicians embody in the connectedness of their playing. The fleeting “Hop and Toe Dance” is, naturally, high-spirited, but it's plaintive parts such as “In Our Quiet” and “Breaking” that prove most affecting.A generous number of solo performances appear. A short setting for solo flugelhorn, Amrine's self-authored title piece exudes a pleading quality in its stark expressions and thereby deepens the personal character of the recording. In Han's Yaygara, the muted horn assumes a bugle-like character, Amrine's declamatory playing offset by quiet, breathy passages and brief vocal punctuations. Originally written for euphonium and later adapted for trumpet, Rudman's haunting Elegy was recorded in a concert hall at Peabody Conservatory to dramatize its range of notes and dynamic levels, while, at album's end, Piunno's Monterey Letters: Seeking and The Voice of One Crying Out serve as a final reminder of Amrine's prowess as a solo player, how effectively her expressive playing can fill a space.