yMusic: Beautiful Mechanical
New Amsterdam Records

Carrying on the admirable "new classical" tradition associated with outfits such as Icebreaker and Bang On A Can All Stars, yMusic members Rob Moose (violin), Nadia Sirota (viola), Clarice Jensen (cello), Alex Sopp (flute), Hideaki Aomori (clarinet), and C.J. Camerieri (trumpet) elevate the seven compositions on Beautiful Mechanical with exquisite ensemble playing. While the album features newly composed music, the compositions are accessible but not cloying, and interesting too is the fact that yMusic eschews electronics for a wholly acoustic sound. The group can at certain moments sound like Michael Nyman's band minus the leader's piano. Both outfits share a sense of rhythmically charged propulsiveness and a capacity for making its chamber ensemble simulate a mini-orchestra of sorts, an effect enhanced in both cases by configurations that strike careful balances between strings, horns, and woodwinds.

Son Lux's title track opens the album on a high-spirited note, with the players' contrapuntal interactions captured in full flight and suggestive of a Renaissance-styled hoedown. At this early stage of the album, it's already obvious that the title isn't randomly chosen, as the seeming ease with which the musicians meet the high-wire challenges of the material is rendered all the more impressive given the composition's intricate makeup. yMusic's exuberant character shines through in the subsequent pieces, too. Like the opener, Annie Clark's “Proven Badlands,” while adopting a slightly less manic tone, moves in leaps and bounds through robust horn, cello, and flute passages, sometimes individually and sometimes in unison. The group's attack is so unremittingly forceful, the meditative episode that emerges halfway through comes as a welcome respite from the intensity.

yMusic's rich timbral colour comes especially to the fore during Sarah Kirkland Snider's evocative “Daughter of the Waves” when a luscious weave of strings, horns, flute, and clarinet conjures imagery associated with mythology and—shades of her remarkable 2010 album, Penelope—Homer's Odyssey. Filled with contrasts of mood, Snider's standout piece exudes a dream-like flow as it moves through its myriad passages, with a late ruminative episode especially powerful. The group's animated and lyrical tendencies also merge in supple manner during Judd Greenstein's penultimate piece, “Clearing, Dawn, Dance” when languidly flowing legato lines alternate and intermingle with staccato patterns. In its blend of dreamy melancholy and Eastern-flavoured melodic explorations, “A Whistle, A Tune, A Macaroon,” a delicate setting by Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), proves to be one of the more emotionally affecting pieces, and while Gabriel Kahane's album-closing “Song” appears, at first, to be somewhat of a wild card on account of a stripped-down arrangement that centers on trumpet and electric guitar, the other members gradually appear, too, to imprint the full yMusic signature upon the twilight setting.

Despite being the products of six composers, the album's pieces hold together as a unified set, an effect that obviously can be attributed to the consistent group persona yMusic presents throughout the recording. One thing it might consider for its next release: allowing room for more solo space. Beautiful Mechanical's concentration on ensemble playing leaves little opportunity for an individual player to stand out, and though the argument could be reasonably made that the musicians are in fact soloing throughout (in the harmolodic sense, that is), adding an occasional solo spotlight would allow for more moments of individual splendour to be heard.

November 2011