DEREK BERMEL (b.1967): Migration Series for Jazz Ensemble and Orchestra, A Shout, a Whisper and a Trace for Orchestra, Mar de Setembro for Voice and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 09V067
Description: Bermel's music explores a world of cultural eclecticism; his studies and investigations seem to have been a concerted attempt to absorb as many and varied influences as possible, from studies with Bolcom, Albright, and Andriessen to native musics of Ghana, Brazil and other nations - as well as jazz and popular music, and his career as a clarinetist. These three works approach the listener from literally all over the map. Migration Series illustrates scenes from Jacob Lawrence's sequence of sixty paintings in uncluttered, faux-naif blocks of muted colors, with not a line or shape wasted, that unsparingly tell the tale of African Americans facing hardship, lynchings and injustice in the segregated South making the difficult migration to the North in the first half of the 20th century in search of jobs in the factories and mills. Bermel's response to these vital, potent and sometimes harrowing images draws on the rich heritage of jazz that those travelers brought with them. The piece’s success largely stems from the fact that it is essentially a jazz suite for jazz ensemble in jazz styles with all the swing and swagger that that implies, with the orchestra providing richness of texture and diversity of timbre, expertly and unobtrusively employed, sometimes in ostinato patterns like a giant rhythm section, sometimes providing big band style backing to the soloists. The migrants would have recognized many of the jazz styles used, but Bermel borrows from more recent developments in free jazz too, as though emphasizing the ongoing nature of migration away from unbearable hardship. Showing the composer’s range A Shout ... is a substantial tone poem in three movements, in honor of Bartók, who spent his last years in Bermel's hometown of New York. The first movement explodes with rough-hewn Balkan folk rhythms alongside the raucous energy of New York. Ghostly reminiscences of Bartók's own late compositions, especially the Concerto for Orchestra, float through the fabric of the music, here and in the lonely slow movement. In the haunting finale, an ethereal presence moves through the loud streets, mysterious night music contrasting with the blaring tumult. "September Sea" sets verses of the Portuguese poet Eugènio de Andrade. “I feel his work vividly evokes saudade" - a word meaning the expression of deep melancholy expressed in terms of soulful longing - as the composer explains. This work sits somewhere between the concert hall of A Shout ... and the crossover jazz of Migration Series, in incorporating sultry Bossa nova inflected vocal lines (emphasized in this performance by the way in which the voice, of conservatory-trained Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza, is recorded) and lush lounge harmonies into an inventively orchestrated suite of concert music. Luciana Souza (vocals), Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, Albany Symphony; David Alan Miller.