Spotlight 17
Anneli Drecker

Aegri Somnia
Susan Alcorn
Damián Anache
A Sides and Makoto
Heather Woods Broderick
Atrium Carceri
Robert Crouch
Anneli Drecker
David Evans
Anne Garner
Tania Giannouli
Peter Gregson
Grönnert and Mondfish
Emily Hall
Hidden Orchestra
Hior Chronik
Hilde Marie Holsen
Deborah Martin
Scott Miller
Monkey Plot
Kate Moore
Mr. Jones
NOW Ensemble
Numina + Zero Ohms
Kristoffer Oustad
Pete Oxley & Nicolas Meier
Bruno Sanfilippo
Maria Schneider
Dirk Serries
Robert Scott Thompson
Skydive Trio
Time Being
toy.bizarre / EMERGE
T_st & Dronelock
Kamasi Washington
Andrew Weathers
Yen Pox
Young & Martin

EPs / Cassettes / DVDs / Mini-Albums / Singles
Alex Agore
Bird People / Waterflower
Donna McKevitt
M. Mucci
Nattavaara Rocks

NOW Ensemble: Dreamfall
New Amsterdam Records

NOW Ensemble members Mark Dancigers (guitar), Michael Mizrahi (piano), Alex Sopp (flute), Sara Budde (clarinet), and Logan Coale (double bass) (composers Patrick Burke and Judd Greenstein are also listed as members) celebrate their tenth year of operation in fine style with a splendid collection of modern chamber music by seven composers (Dancigers and Greenstein plus Scott Smallwood, John Supko, Nathan Williamson, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Andrea Mazzariello). The group is hardly the only new music ensemble operating these days, but its instrumental setup virtually ensures that it'll be mistaken for no other. NOW Ensemble releases have been covered in textura's pages before, and so too have other recordings associated with its members, among them Mizrahi's The Bright Motion and yMusic's Balance Problems (on which Sopp appears), but Dreamfall, the outfit's fourth full-length release, qualifies as a high point in the group's career. The choice of title derives from a particular outlook on the world, one characterized by Dancigers as “a state of immense freedom,” the implication being that the performances on the album reflect a disposition of surrender by the musicians to the material they're playing as well as a loosening of the reins, so to speak.

Originating out of the composer's desire to distill the experience of stillness into musical form, Smallwood's “still in here” is thus a suitably contemplative ambient-drone setting whose impact is maximized by an especially immersive engagement with the material by the listener. Yet as effective as it is in achieving its aim, its despondent tone doesn't make it the optimal choice as an album opener when the pieces that follow are strikingly less downtrodden in mood. Things perk up immediately, however, with the advent of Dancigers' three-part title work, whose affirmative spirit offers a dramatic contrast to Smallwood's. The album's most hypnotic setting is clearly Supko's “divine the rest” in the way it merges the group's playing with spoken fragments (assembled via computer, the text consists of extemporaneous utterances arranged in accordance with grammatical rules), field recording samples, drones, and sine-tone textures. A remarkable exercise in dream-like entrancement, the eleven-minute piece mesmerizes, especially when its words are more whispered than spoken. It's hard not to be reminded of Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint when confronted by the spidery guitar patterns within Greenstein's restless shape-shifter “City Boy,” and were one not enlightened otherwise, Nathan Williamson's contribution could be mistaken for one by Louis Andriessen or Steve Martland. The album's most overtly aggressive piece, “Trans-Atlantic Flight of Fancy” provides a bravura outlet for the ensemble's intense side and its ability to navigate complex waters. The contributions by Greenstein and Williamson aren't overly derivative, though, but simply works that reflect the stylistic influence of other composers.

As impressive as such compositions are, it's the playing of the group that is ultimately the recording's major selling point. The sensitive interplay between the piano, clarinet, flute, double bass, and guitar is a constant source of pleasure, and the largely acoustic soundworld produced is refreshing, too. No one player dominates, and sounds are distributed democratically amongst them. That being said, Sopp's flute playing does often stand out and in doing so goes a long way towards distancing NOW Ensemble from other groups within the new music category, yet there are numerous instances on Dreamfall where the others make their presences strongly felt, too.

July-August 2015