Fanfare’s “Scatter My Ashes” Review
This is a reprint of Colin Clarke’s review from the NOV/DEC 2014 issue of Fanfare Magazine used by permission.
SUSMAN Camille. Scatter My Ashes. Piano Concerto. Moving In To An Empty Space Octet Ens BELARCA 004 (44:41)
This is one of the most fun albums to come my way in a while. Low on playing time it may be, but this heavily minimalist-tinged music offers constant delight. There is what can only be described as a cleanliness to the writing (and, actually, the performances) that is most appealing. Born in 1960, Susman is known in both classical and jazz circles, and while the first movement of Camille (2010), entitled “Vitality”, showcases the minimalist element of Susman’s music, the central slow movement (“Tranquility”), with its wordless vocals (flawlessly delivered by Melissa Hughes) speaks of late-night slow jazz before pumping, vital rhythms return us to minimalism for the final section, “Triumph”. The way Susman plays with vocal and instrumental timbres is fascinating.
The Octet Ensemble is carefully selected to represent a scaled down big band, taking one each from the brass section plus rhythm (so, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, drums/percussion, piano, electric piano, vocals and double-bass). The five movements of Scatter My Ashes (2009) set texts by the composer’s sister, Sue Susman. The voice of Melissa Hughes, wonderfully low in, often free of, vibrato comes into its own here, especially in the more tender movements. Throughout, this is stunningly performed and recorded, with the final song, “Eternal Light” being gloriously lyrical (and Hughes sings it so perfectly).
I wonder how many piano concertos include voice (not voices, we are not talking Busoni here). Well, this one does. Wordless vocals are an integral part of the mix; more, the piano part is certainly not soloistic, making this more of a “sounding together”. The piano rather seems to provide a bedrock, while slivers of musical through come and go as if in a dream. The movements each have brief descriptors: “Build-Decay”; “Glide”; “Spin”; “Jagged”; “Ripple”—Cadenza— “Shimmer”. But “slick” is the word I would use, impeccably crafted and played by all concerned with pinpoint accuracy.
Finally, the 2010 arrangement for octet of the 1992 Moving In To An Empty Space. Again, Hughes’ voice is perfect for the music, particularly in the central ruminative “Begging the Night for Change”. Colin Clarke