Jeff Herriott: The Stone Tapestry
New Focus Recordings

Some recordings play like snapshots of a particular time and place; others transcend their moment of creation and convey a timeless quality that suggests the music could have arisen years, decades, even centuries ago as much as today. Jeff Herriott's The Stone Tapestry is one such creation, even if its CD presentation and electro-acoustic treatments relate it to a particular era. But in its compositional form, pacing, and flute-and-percussion arrangements, the hour-long recording nevertheless exudes a timeless quality that's very much in keeping with its ritualistic character. Using an instrumental presentation to trace evolutionary changes that accrue to stones across time, Herriott explores ideas about origins and life-cycles in the nine-part work.

Certainly one of the recording's major draws derives from the timbral contrasts between the percussion instruments and flute. Whenever she appears, Erin Lesser's entrancing woodwind playing (alto, bass, contrabass, and traditional flutes, specifically) warms the cool, metallic timbres produced by her Due East partner Gregory Beyer and Third Coast Percussion members David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors. Adding to the music's timeless character are the particular percussive instruments sourced as sound-generators: crotales, crystal glasses, glass bowls, gongs, pipes, stones, wood planks, vibraphones, and bowls of water.

Nominally, the genre in play might be identified as contemporary chamber music, but there's something undeniably primal about the material as presented by Due East (for which it was written) and Third Coast Percussion. Though all nine parts are united by a common theme, each section functions as a stand-alone in presenting a slightly different soundworld than the others, and in certain cases, a particular musical configuration is emphasized. On “Wanderer Hymn,” for example, Lesser's playing, heavily processed in this case, is featured, whereas “Draping the Walls With Ice” shifts the spotlight to Third Coast Percussion.

At album's start, “Clouds of Stone” tickles the ear with the resonant gleam and sparkle of mallet and bell textures, the music alternating between dazzling showers and quieter sequences where the tempo slows to a near-standstill (the effect revisited in the seventh part, “Purification of the Stone”). A third of the way into the fifteen-minute setting, Lesser's flute surreptitiously enters to add another striking dimension to the sound design and deepen the mysteries in play. Her playing proves especially hypnotic during the third movement, “Luminous Stones,” when her softly undulating expressions appear alongside bowed vibraphone textures and unusual scraping noises, and the fifth, “Consciousness Floats Into the Wind,” arguably the most swoon-inducing of the nine settings. Another appealing aspect of The Stone Tapestry is how unhurriedly its composition's sections unfold. A case in point, “Lament of the Stone” advances in a manner that seems almost like slow-motion, yet the presentation is all the more powerful as a result, especially when the listener is able to monitor so closely the interactions between the flute, vibes, and water bowls.

Herriott's atmospheric, delicately wrought works often involve interactions between live performers and electronic sounds, and while applications of the latter are present in the processing treatments applied to the flute, The Stone Tapestry sounds more like an acoustic than electro-acoustic work. The primal and timeless qualities of the material lend it a purity reminiscent of the music of John Luther Adams, another composer who repeatedly draws for inspiration from the natural landscape. Structure and form are omnipresent, yet Herriott's music unfolds in a way that feels natural, elemental even. Throughout the recording, the six musicians work together with the utmost patience, rather like archeologists painstakingly excavating a dig in hope of unearthing ancient artifacts.

March 2017