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With More than a Passing Interest

Artist: Dan DeChellis
Dan DeChellis - With More than a Passing Interest CD
Label: Sachimay
Regular Price: $12.95
On Sale For: $5.18 
Year: 2001
Format: CD


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DeChellis is one of many improvising musicians who feel close to the "new music" tradition despite the obvious absence of through-composition in his work. He does, however, organize his music somewhat in advance, using a variety of strategies which are less interesting than the results themselves.

"With More..." (don't be put off by the titles) is an album of quintet improvisations led by DeChellis and all of medium-long duration (9-15 mins). The performers play it pretty straight, and you could be forgiven for thinking this was a contemporary classical disc except perhaps for Hernandez's violin, which has a ronsiny, unfinished sound. Inevitably, these pieces are dominated by Anita DeChellis's vocal performances, which are fortunately extremely robust, lively affairs. She enjoys improvising with sounds, but she's quite capable of belting out a few big notes, which is sometimes just what this sort of thing calls for. She is, however, often willing to melt into the ensemble to give the others space to move.

Space is, indeed, one of the defining virtues of this music. It never feels crowded; DeChellis, one way or another, has found a way to replicate the kind of layered, perforated sound which chamber groups get when playing, say, Boulez. This is tough to do in improvised music and credit is due both to him as the arranger and to the individual players. Hernandez's tone is indeed a bit out of place, if the place is a classical ensemble. Of course it isn't, and she sounds great; a strong feature at the opening of track two reveals a splendidly imaginative, singing style with enormous sensitivity to the effects of microtonal movements of pitch on what her fellow musicians are doing. Hernandez and DeChellis are, almost of necessity, the most note-oriented of these five. Anita DeChellis is situated between them and the determinedly non-pitched world of Fieldman or the ever-gliding sounds of Coleman's theremin.

Fieldman is the most conventionally "improv" of the lot, although it's hard to see how he could be otherwise; his contributions provide a reminder of this music's slightly bizarre hybrid state. Coleman swoops around this music with the kind of control and intelligence which isn't easy to attain on this hard-to-make-much-of instrument. Far from being a mere sound-effects guy, Coleman plays real music here.

The four pieces represented here have all the calm rapturousness of really good modernist vocal music. They are Romantic the way Schoenberg or Boulez is Romantic, and they are truly wonderful things. Whether composition or improvisation is the best way to achieve them will continue to be a vexed question, but DeChellis adds to the mounting case for the latter's viability.

Richard Cochrane, Musings

Dan DeChellis (piano); Katt Hernandez (violin); Gary Fieldman (percussion); Anita DeChellis (voice); James Coleman (theremin)
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