Marty Regan: Splash of Indigo
Navona Records

Since 2000, Marty Regan, currently an Associate Professor of Music at Texas A&M University, has been garnering attention for creating music for traditional Japanese instruments, and his deep engagement with Japanese culture is evident in a couple of ways on the seventy-minute collection Splash of Indigo. It's evidenced, for example, in its source of text for “Three Poems by Tanikawa Shuntaro” and in aspects of Japanese folk music that subtly weave their way into the album material. That being said, Splash of Indigo generally shies away from that dimension of Regan's compositional approach to instead present works in style and arrangement that hew generally to the Western classical tradition.

Interestingly, the album, which includes pieces recorded during 2015-16 and spanning an eighteen-year period, is also Regan's first release featuring his works for Western orchestral instruments and voice, arriving as it does after the release of three Navona Records CDs issued under the “Selected Works for Japanese Instruments” series title. The American composer is clearly no dilettante dabbling in other cultures and pilfering from their artistic traditions. Splash of Indigo is also marked by diversity in its presentation, with works scored for solo piano, trio, string quartet, and orchestra featured.

A good illustration of the album's style is the 2012 solo piano setting “Riding through Misty Clouds,” which even in its title hints at that Japanese connection without locating it exclusively within a specific locale. Performed with great élan by Brendan Kinsella, the six-minute piece effectively conjures the experience of a traveler whose untethered thoughts drift as the plane gracefully glides above the clouds.

Whereas Regan's works for traditional Japanese instruments are often understated in tone, a few of the pieces on Splash of Indigo are exuberant and brash, none more so than 2005's “Overdrive.” Inviting comparison in its rhythmic charge to ‘80s works by John Adams, Regan's piece, performed by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, exemplifies the same rambunctious spirit that energizes his American counterpart's “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” and “The Chairman Dances.” In keeping with its title and as performed by Trio Xia, 2004's Balinese gamelan-inspired “Runaway Train” is an ever-restless study in perpetual motion. Lyrical and ruminative by comparison are Regan's personal response to 9-11, “Two Movements for Violin and Piano,” even if the work, as realized by violinist Chloé Trevor and pianist Kinsella also has its share of intense episodes (the second movement especially), and 2002's “Three Poems by Tanikawa Shuntaro,” rendered with delicacy by soprano Julia Fox and pianist Andrea Imhoff.

A definite album highlight is the Apollo Chamber Players' rendering of the 2014 title track, which in its Impressionistic tone and style could be seen as a sibling to Ravel's and Debussy's string quartets (even if “Splash of Indigo” is a single-movement work). Much as they did with the material on their own 2016 release Blurred Boundaries, the Apollo Chamber Players elevates Regan's piece with an impassioned performance rich in sensuality and conviction.

With so many different instrumental groupings and musicians involved, the release does tend to lose a little bit by way of cohesiveness, something exacerbated too by the influences that seem to surface in a couple of pieces. Yet there's no denying that Splash of Indigo presents a strong argument for Regan's compositional range and his command of chamber and ensemble orchestration.

December 2016