Aaron Martin & Christoph Berg: Day Has Ended

The listener familiar with the previous output of Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg (aka Field Rotation) will come to their split release Day Has Ended with a pretty good idea of what to expect from the thirty-seven-minute outing—exquisite neo-classical chamber settings, specifically—and that's precisely what one gets. Not that that's in any way objectionable: both artists are gifted composers and multi-instrumentalists, and the eight pieces included on the release (issued in a run of 250 CD copies) are splendid examples of the genre form. Though Day Has Ended is somewhat of a concept album, the idea being that its eight pieces trace the arc of a typical day, it succeeds perfectly well on purely musical grounds as a listening experience. In keeping with the title, a powerful strain of melancholy pervades the material, though it's anything but despairing.

An admired cellist, Martin prominently features emotive string playing in his four pieces, but they're instrumentally rich with other sounds, too. Shimmering guitar strums and twinkling percussion accents provide a dream-like backdrop for the cello's undulations during “Slow Wake,” while the bright pluck of a banjo suggests a state of clear-eyed wakefulness in “Burl.” “Comfort of Shadow” begins with the dramatic sound of choir-like vocalizing before the material shifts into instrumental mode with Martin using a mini-orchestra of strings to produce a supplicating drone. The rising, four-note organ pattern that introduces “Night Never Came” plays like a direct homage to both Philip Glass and Arvo Part, though once again the focus gradually shifts once the mournful cries of Martin's strings enter.

Stylistically, there isn't a radical upheaval in the transition from Martin to Berg. The latter's pieces are as luxurious as Martin's, and strings play as central a role in the recording's second half as they do the first. Berg's pieces are characterized by wistful reflection not only in their titles but more significantly in their tone: “Today Has Been Alright” strips the material down to strings and piano only and is all the more emotionally affecting for presenting its music so nakedly, while the strings in “Things Are Sorted, Finally” rock gently as if suggesting the onset of sleep and the relaxing of the mind and body that comes with it. The peaceful lilt of “Coda” hints that whatever turbulent moments the day might have brought with it have been reduced to little more than a fading memory. Taken as a whole, Day Has Ended is about as lovely and refined a collection as anyone familiar with the work of Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg might have hoped it would be.

December 2013