16 January 2011

Keve Wilson’s ‘Pure Imagination’

Keve Wilson, oboe

I   saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set her free.”
  — Michelangelo, on imagination and the creative process.
T he new CD by oboist Keve Wilson and colleagues is really good: 14 tracks showcasing her atmospheric lyricism. This CD was just released by CCR/Naxos on 04-JAN-2011.

T he account of Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Fracanapa’ in fast additive 3+3+2 meter or polyrhythm (almost in 1) is driven; conspiratorial—with Wilson’s blazing double- and triple-tonguing; juicy come-what-may bravado, interleaved with suspenseful diminuendos that withdraw into a secret, interior space but soon emerge again, like a wild animal from its lair. The ‘Imagination’ of the disc’s title is no lie; it is a promise kept.

T he Jeff Marder arrangement of the Lady Gaga hit ‘Poker Face’ is an adventure in 3+3+2 tango minimalism—microtonal passages convincingly convey confrontational aloofness and nothing-to-lose abandon that cohere with the spirit of the Lady Gaga original.

C  an you imagine—imagine what I would do if I could do all that I can?”
  — Sun Tzu.
J eff Marder’s phrasing is particularly thoughtful—an example of collaborative piano at its best. The playing of Greg Heffernan on cello, Mr. Lei on erhu, Charles Pierce on guitar, Mat Fields and Michael Valerio on fretless bass (on separate tracks), Bernard Fox’s whistling on track #7 ‘Moonbeams’, and Andy Beall on percussion are compelling as well.

I t’s tough to blend double-reeds with other instruments, and doing so requires a lot of knowledge and experience of the tonal properties and the articulative and dynamic constraints—knowledge on the part of the composer/arranger and the performer(s) alike. Close harmony doesn’t necessarily favor the blend, and, given the prolific overtones that oboe and English horn have, wider intervals in the lower register of these instruments are especially risky.

W ith those factors in mind, I must say the blend here is superb, and the miking and mixing are first-rate. Keve’s finesse is all-over phenomenal, but the hairy figures she is able to navigate with panache and control in the lower register are nothing short of astonishing.

Y  ou have to imagine it possible before you can see something. You can have the evidence right in front of you, but if you can’t imagine something that has never existed before, it’s impossible.”
  — Rita Dove.
T he need for sufficient rests or phrasing allowing for breathing: more risks that composers/arrangers may create for double-reeds. For Keve, such challenges are taken in-stride. Circular ‘snorkel’ breathing is likely how Keve accomplishes some of the very-long-duration feats and expressive effects in here (although I am unable to detect any wavering of tone or other evidence of it). Brilliant!

T hrough the inspired, empathetic playing and Joe Castellon’s and Mike Aarvold’s fine engineering/mixing/mastering, you also hear on this disc the considerable merits of the studio environment at Kaufman Astoria Studios (KAS). Without any acoustic isolation, everyone plays like they can hear everyone else perfectly, because, in fact, they can hear everyone else perfectly. These days, there are not many recording venues that are conducive to this, especially for small ensembles on a budget. The environment at KAS is one that is especially congenial to performers. The sonic result is not only clean and consistent and technically precise, but one that also embodies the players’ true selves or authentic identities—‘who’ the performers were and ‘who’ they experienced, each of one another, during the recording session. This is not a self-conscious experience per se; any musician who has spent time in recording studios will attest to this. Instead, it’s like encountering each other on a delicious, clear, and invigorating day—out in the open, breathing the purest of air, imagining anything you want, anything that’s possible.

B ravo to all who contributed to the compositions, arrangements, performances, and engineering and production of this wonderful disc!

T   he most obvious effect of getting used to hearing one’s own recordings... is to be come highly self-critical about details... Making a recording becomes a process of detailed self-examination. There are also more subtle forces at work. If you hear the sound of your own voice [or instrument], you are made aware that you cannot hear yourself as others hear you. You learn to hear what others hear... You start adjusting it to something which sounds more like what you thought you were doing.”
  — Robert Philip, Performing Music in the Age of Recording, p. 25.
F   irst-rate recording can achieve] a more effective unity between intensity of action and displacement of sound than could be afforded by the best of all [live concert] seasons at Bayreuth.”
  — Glenn Gould.
K eve is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and 1997 winner of the International Concert Artists Guild Competition. Keve studied oboe with Richard Killmer and dance with Elizabeth Clark in Rochester. She lives in NYC with her husband, trombonist Kerry Farrell. Keve is a co-founder of the chamber music series Project Accidental in Los Angeles and is solo oboist with Kristjan Järvi’s ‘Absolute Ensemble’. Apart from her concertizing and recording, Keve is deeply committed to educating the next generation and contributes to Pasadena Conservatory, Henry Mancini Institute, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Caramoor Center, and American Festival for the Arts in Houston and Argentina, as well as public school outreach programs in New York City and Los Angeles.

I   doubt that the imagination can ever be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, (s)he would grow up to be an eggplant.”
  — Ursula LeGuin.

K eve’s up-coming performances include an appearance with Westchester Chamber Orchestra on 12-FEB and with Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas at Alice Tully Hall on 24-MAR.

    [30-sec clip, Keve Wilson, Astor Piazzolla, ‘Fracanapa’; (track 4), 2011, 1.1MB MP3]

    [30-sec clip, Keve Wilson, Astor Piazzolla, ‘Oblivion’, arr. K. Wilson; (track 10), 2011, 1.1MB MP3]

    [30-sec clip, Keve Wilson, Lady Gaga & RedOne, ‘Poker Face’, arr. J. Marder,; (track 6), 2011, 1.1MB MP3]

KAS, Studio B

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