wild Up: Feather & Stone
wild Up's Feather & Stone makes for a natural companion recording to Populist Records' other recent release, gnarwhallaby's [exhibit a]. Both recordings feature ensembles committed to the performance of provocative new music and programmes that mix works by less established composers with others more familiar, such as Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiaen; an additional commonality is the presence of material by Nicholas Deyoe on both releases. Like his pieces on [exhibit a], Deyoe's aptly titled “A New Anxiety” is an unsettling and boldly declamatory work that exploits the outfit's instrumental resources to the maximum degree—uneasy listening, to be sure. As complementary as the recordings are, Deyoe's piece highlights the key difference between them, which is that the quartet size of gnarwhallaby is dwarfed by wild Up's orchestral scale (forty musician names are listed on the CD sleeve).
Founded by conductor Christopher Rountree in 2010, wild Up is a Los Angeles-based contemporary music collective committed to challenging audiences with works that are visceral, powerful, and provocative. That the group has no compunctions about toppling genre boundaries is evidenced most clearly on the recording by Andrew Tholl's “Still Not a Place to Build Monuments or Cathedrals,” whose raw and scrabbly electric guitar playing by group members Tholl and Chris Kallmyer suggests a stronger connection to Sonic Youth than Julian Bream. In similar spirit, Rountree's “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird” is as much a bluesy jazz setting as it is a rapidly shape-shifting new music piece. The album is also very much a portrait of wild Up as not only an instrumental ensemble but also a composer-based project, given that five of the album's eight pieces are credited to four group members: Rountree, violinist Tholl, guitarist/bassist Kallmyer, and bassoonist Archie Carey.
Ornithological content lends the album a unifying quality: the opening piece, the aforementioned “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird,” not only incorporates bebop passages but literally references Charlie (“Bird”) Parker's “Ornithology,” while the closing setting, Carey's rather saturnine “Bird of Paradise in Paradise,” uses Parker's classic rendering of “Bird of Paradise” as a melodic blueprint. In addition there's Kallmyer's “This Nest, Swift Passerine,” which threads field recordings of birds into its arrangement, and “Oiseaux exotiques” by Messiaen, well-known for his fascination with birdsong and incorporation of it into his compositional practice. On the fifteen-minute setting, the immediately identifiable sonorities of Messiaen's evocative sound world are realized effectively by wild UP, with pianist Richard Valitutto's impressionistic ruminations prominently featured alongside fluttering woodwinds and percussion.
Drawn from three separate concerts (“Ornithology,” “The Armory,” and one inspired by Stan Brakhage films), the eight settings are live performances that don't coddle but instead challenge the listener with material that's both delicate and abrasive—a theme also conveyed, of course, by the album title and its feather and stone cover photos. wild Up's own characterization of its music as “(s)ometimes brutal, sometimes serene” is as accurate as it is succinct.