Friday 4 December 2015

Following its 25th anniversary the acclaimed Meridian Arts Ensemble releases its 10th CD and a Live Concert DVD

Following its 25th anniversary the Meridian Arts Ensemble has released its 10th CD entitled Alchemy and a Live Concert DVD of their 1997 Deutsches Jazz Festival appearance and their 2004 Library of Congress concert.

The Meridian Arts Ensemble’s line up is Jon Nelson and Tim Leopold (trumpets), Daniel Grabois (horn), Benjamin Herrington (trombone) Raymond Stewart (tuba) and John Ferrari (percussion and conducting) with guest artists David Ballou (trumpet), Faustino Diaz Mendez (trumpet and trombone) and Adam Unsworth (horn)

Their new CD from 8bells records  features arrangements of music by a variety of composers including Byrd, Gesualdo, Lassus, Corelli, Bach and Giovanni Gabrieli.

They start by playing an arrangement by Adam Unsworth of the Gloria from William Byrd’s (1543-1623) Mass for Five Voices. A vibraphone provides an unexpected opening of the plainchant Gloria before a trumpet and other brass take the theme forward bringing some fine varying dynamics, sonorities and textures. The Meridian Arts Ensemble provides some wonderful sounds, subtly varying the textures in this effective and attractive arrangement. Carlo Gesualdo’s (c. 1561-1613) Occhi del mio cor vita is arranged here by Raymond Stewart and brings fine varied textures as the piece develops. The Ensemble provides some lovely subtle little details with much care and fine phrasing enabling this short piece to work so well for brass.

Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674) Plorate filii Israel, in an arrangement by Daniel Grabois, moves forward with a dignified solemn pace, rising gently in more passionate moments. This is an exquisitely shaped performance with a lovely gentle rise and fall, these fine players bringing a lovely subtly shifting blend.

Orlande de Lassus’ (c. 1530/32-1594) Eco is a fine rhythmic, joyful piece that gets a real lift from these players with such fine accurate playing. David Ballou has arranged Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Sonata Op.5 No.8 in E minor. Firstly we have the Prelude where muted instruments weave the gentle theme with these fine musicians creating a wonderful sound world. A wonderful arrangement and performance.

English conductor, composer and trumpeter, Elgar Howarth (b. 1935) has based his Pasce Tuos on a piece by Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397-1474). It opens with a series of held notes overlaid by a trumpet theme with subtly changing lower layers as the piece develops. These players create the most wonderful layers of sonority with such well controlled development as the music subtly blossoms. 

Giovanni Gabrieli’s (c. 1554/1556-1612) Sonata Pian’e Forte, probably written for a variety of wind instruments, naturally lends itself to brass. Here it is nicely paced with the Ensemble bringing a lovely mixture of textures and sonorities, slowly allowing the music to rise with varying dynamics all of which allow this music to be revealed in all its glory. The second movement Allemande of David Ballou’s arrangement of Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 in E minor follows where playful little phrases from each player dart around before the theme is soon revealed. A delightful piece.

Jon Nelson’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) Six Part Fugue from A Musical Offering has a delightful opening where each of the instruments of the Ensemble spring into life suddenly, adding a part of the fugue. They develop through some very fine passages, each instrument providing a part of the lovely texture in this gem of a performance. The vibraphone can be heard adding its colour and texture as well as rhythmically pointing up the fugue before building in strength to the coda. The Sarabande from Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 in Nelson’s arrangement has a gentle flow from muted instruments weaving a melancholy theme. Beautifully done.

A more serious side to Orlando de Lassus is provided by his Providebam Dominum of 1604 where wonderfully varied sonorities abound. These players bring light textures, then rich and glowing sonorities as well as a fine flow. The rich harmonisation rises through passages of tremendous strength and sonority. The final Gigue of Corelli’s Sonata Op.5 No.8 arranged by David Ballou brings a fast moving circle of brass in this ever evolving gigue, brilliantly played by the Meridian Arts Ensemble.

To end this disc Jon Nelson has arranged Bach’s arr. Nelson: Contrapunctus XV from The Art of Fugue. The tuba opens before other instruments slowly join to expand Bach’s wonderful invention, weaving around each other, subtly drawing out so much of Bach’s invention. They bring a tremendous tapestry of brass sounds with the xylophone joining to bring the coda.

This will prove to be an irresistible disc for brass devotees but I do hope that it finds a wider audience for there is such great musicianship on display here.  The recording is extremely well done, balancing clarity and richer sonorities. There are brief notes.

The Live Concert DVD that has been released by 8bells records opens with the Meridian Arts Ensemble’s 2004 Library of Congress concert where they gave a virtuosic performance of Stravinsky’s Fanfare for a New Theatre before playing Gesualdo’s Belta, poi che t’assenti finding many details and subtleties.

Moving to music from more recent times they followed with David Sanford’s Corpus, a six movement work where they brought a dazzling Antiphon and an Introit that picked up on the many jazz influences. It was lovely the way the various instrumental lines fan out with drums pointing up the rhythms in the third movement, Shot, rising to moments of intense driven momentum. Kreuz-Männer opens with fine antiphonal effects before the ensemble combine to drive ahead with jazz rhythms, picking up a terrific beat. De Profundis brought some lovely mellow muted brass sounds pointed up by percussion, through some lovely broad flowing passages before a rather curious, quiet coda. The final movement of this work, Sermon brought staccato phrases pointed up by drums and cymbals of John Ferrari’s drum kit with a number of short solos for trombone with percussion, later really whipping up a storm in the jazz style conclusion.

Elliot Sharp’s Beyond the Curve opened with a terrific, intricate staccato version of the theme from the the two trumpets before the Ensemble took the theme ahead. These two trumpeters brought superb playing, indeed the whole ensemble delivered some very fine playing as the piece worked its way forward. There were quiet moments as well as some extraordinary brass sounds before the music found its inexorable drive to the coda.

This concert was filmed in 4:3 format with some fine camera work of the various musicians. Picture quality is a little fuzzy but sound through my large speakers was very good.

Second up on this new DVD is the Ensemble’s 1997 appearance at the Deutsches Jazz Festival. Here the Meridian Arts Ensemble had a slightly different line up with trumpeter, Josef Burgstaller instead Brian McWhorter. They opened with Su Lian Tan’s Moo’s Shu Rap Wrap where they brought a terrific flare and freedom and some terrific sounds as well as great energy. Daniel Grabois’ Migration was less like a jazz piece with some very fine brass sounds, mellow, beautifully blended with a fine rhythmic pulse and some fine individual moments from these players in the quieter moments. Jon Nelson’s Dream of Miles brought a bluesy opening for muted trumpet and hushed ensemble. There were many fine, subtle brass sounds as the piece developed into a brighter more rhythmic style full of lively jazz rhythms before falling quiet at the end. Ben Herrington’s Randy Brecker’s Some Skunk Funk brought strange wailings in the opening as a theme tried to emerge, which it did, moving confidently and rhythmically ahead. This is a great piece where each player displayed his individual musicianship, moving through some pretty wild moments before a quiet, throw away ending. 

Again the picture quality is acceptable if a little lacking in definition but the sound through my large speakers was excellent. 

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