Anthony Coleman

You
New World Records 80767-2

By Ken Waxman

A CD that more appropriately should have been labeled Him, You collects six instances of Anthony Coleman work which occupy the mid-ground between written and improvised music, encompassing a jazz sensibility plus faint echoes of eastern European sounds.

Like indigenous responses to bereavement, Coleman’s most affecting works here deal with death on the personal or mass level without overlapping in tone. “Station RER (B) Drancy” for instance, performed with taut understatement by a 10-piece, Coleman-conducted orchestra, is a poignant elegy for French Jews sent to the death camps during the Holocaust from the Paris train station of that name. Filled with prescient locomotion-like motifs, it reaches a crescendo as death march-like percussion smacks start to resemble gun shots. In contrast, “Oogenera”, a three-part solo piano threnody for conduction pioneer Lawrence “Butch” Morris, shuffles along like mourners in a funeral procession; becomes tougher and darker in the middle, but speeds up to passionate hopefulness by its climax.

Woe wallowing isn’t the only emotion expressed though. Just like brass bands parade joyously returning from traditional New Orleans jazz burials, Coleman surrounds his dirges with more uplifting tomes. Alive with clarinet burps and saxophone shrills “You” ends the disc with rhythms cascading from instrument to instrument; while “Acute Coryza” for brass sextet, initially resembles a baroque version of “Happy Birthday” until like the overlapping panels in a multi-colored garment, individual tones fuse into a polyphonic line that consistently moves forward. Furthermore, the four-part “Metonymies of Pastness”, another solo piano showcase, cycles through phlegmatic and perky passages, using taut cadenzas for punctuation, and torques the ending for a galloping finale.

Coleman, who has been on the New England Conservatory faculty since 2006, easily demonstrates that those who teach can also do.

—For MusicWorks #124 Spring 2016