VA: Cold Blue 2
Cold Blue

A superb sequel to the first anthology (issued in the mid-‘80s), Cold Blue Two offers a comprehensive overview of the West Coast label's artists (roster and otherwise) and their respective styles; anyone new to the label will come away enlightened and enriched by the experience. Many pieces are by Cold Blue artists of long-standing—figures like Rick Cox, Daniel Lentz, John Luther Adams, Daniel Lentz, and Jim Fox—while other contributions come from highly regarded figures like Gavin Bryars and Ingram Marshall. Most of the fourteen new and previously unrecorded works are short, chamber-styled pieces that in some cases are arranged for a single instrument. The pieces range from three to five minutes in length, and were all composed during the past decade, the sole exception being Read Miller's 1982 setting “Come out, sit awhile; break the bottle, and you is lost.”

Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick inaugurates the hour-long collection with a moving setting for multi-tracked cello in Lentz's “Celli,” with her plaintive lines weaving themselves into an affecting and stately whole. A few other pieces are similarly scored for a single instrument: pianist Sarah Cahill gives Miller's piece a delectably slow reading that subtly alludes to both blues and jazz, while accordionist Guy Klucevsek infuses Peter Garland's “Nights in the Gardens of Maine” with a light-hearted and uplifting spirit.

Some settings are not only distinguished compositionally but sonically too. Ingram Marshall's “Son of Soe-pa,” for example, finds the composer applying a dramatic dose of digital delay processing to the elegant classical guitar playing of his son, Clement (augmented by recordings of him singing hymns at the age of eight) to stirring effect. In “Sometimes the Sword of Seven,” Chas Smith uses multiple layers of Hammond organ and steel guitar to generate a massive force-field whose intensity culminates in a stabbing crescendo that's eased by a restful deflation. Playing celesta on his own “Another Shore,” Phillip Schroeder uses digital delay to create kaleidoscopic vistas of luscious sparkle, while James Tenney's just-intonation piece “Mallets in the Air” is scored for a Harry Partch-designed diamond marimba and string quartet (its title derives from Partch's admonition, “Do not wave the mallets in the air, daintily or otherwise”). At disc's end, “Colorless sky became fog” by Cold Blue head Jim Fox also sets itself apart in its incorporation of hammered dulcimer, whose shimmer adds to the piece's already haunting character.

Scored for two clarinets, piano, and electronics, Rick Cox's “Later” is one of the more formal chamber-styled pieces on the recording, as is Bryars' “It Never Rains,” which is emblematic of the English composer's customary style—lyrical and ruminative, the setting tangentially recalls his earlier “After the Requiem,” which likewise pairs electric guitar and strings. The string quartet ETHEL contributes a sterling reading of John Luther Adams' “Sky with Four Suns,” an evocation that draws inspiration from the Arctic sky, specifically the illusion that can be produced through interactions between the sun and ice crystals in the air. A slow and stately waltz with roots in gospel, David Rosenboom's aptly titled “Hymn of Change” is given an affecting performance by the Formalist Quartet.

Certainly one of the CD's most arresting pieces is Larry Polansky's gentle “Eskimo Lullaby,” not so much for the beauty of its Just-Intonation National steel guitar playing—as pretty as it is—but for the unexpected inclusion of guitarist John Schneider's unadorned vocal. Anyone suffering from the delusion that Cold Blue's music is emotionally cool will find that misguided impression quickly righted after sampling this resonant and wide-ranging collection, which incontrovertibly showcases the label's penchant for music that exemplifies refinement without at the same time being overly burdened by formality and convention.

December 2012