Recorded live at three separately-themed shows, "Feather & Stone" – the new release from Los Angeles-based ensemble wild Up - tugs its listener between the textures of its title objects: the feather, as ethereal and untethered, and the gritty and grounded stone. One heightens the atmosphere of the other, magnifying it like a white pattern on a black background. “We’ll play it, as long as we love it,” reads the group’s mission statement, and that ownership can be felt in each turn, each startling transition, each surprise.
wild Up is directed by Christopher Rountree, a young composer and conductor who has held the baton for the Brooklyn Philharmonic and San Diego Symphony. He has created a large, flexible, imaginative ensemble, the kind that seems to be magnetically pulling some of the West Coast’s best musicians together. With many composers in-house (four out of the seven featured on "Feather & Stone," in fact), the ensemble’s repertoire is rightfully ambitious.
Rountree’s own piece, Stand Still Like the Hummingbird, kicks the album off with swaying, jazzy vibes. It develops dramatically, Louis Andriessen-like sounds pushing their way through as it ebbs and flows, and showcases wild Up’s ability to fully grasp and deliver a dense piece. It’s a story for the listener to follow.
The album then shifts 180 degrees to Nicholas Deyoe’s A New Anxiety. Deyoe’s droning piece with sharp, reckless percussion feels darker and more angled after Rountree’s than it would following silence. The transition between Still Not a Place to Build Monuments or Cathedrals by Andrew Tholl and This Nest, Swift Passerine by Chris Kallmyer is similar in the opposite direction. After Tholl’s violent clamor of ensemble and guitar, Kallmyer’s controlled, yearning cellos and low brass swell as recorded bird calls become crucial white noise. These switches happen inside singular pieces, too, like flipping through the catalog of found sounds in Odeya Nini’s Dante Quartet.
"Feather & Stone" offers up some surprises, but it’s also an exercise in perspective. Without the stone, the feather loses some of itself, and vice versa. We need the aggressive bite of electronics to illuminate what really makes a note on the violin unique. The clear hum of a saxophone sets the stage for a tightly-packed cloud of snare and cymbal. Maybe the surprises, then, can't be called surprises at all—they’re the product of a sonic jigsaw. It's all part of the plan.
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