The strikingly beautiful cover art reminiscent of Magritte is eye catching and make this reviewer nostalgic for the days of the 12×12 format of LP covers. (Album Artwork: Pink Lady (2015), Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Album Design: Laura Grey). It is, perhaps by virtue of its nod to modernism, a metaphor for the content of this album as well as being its title.
Longleash is apparently the oh so clever operations name of a CIA project whose goal was to help proliferate American modern art in the cold war era. These days I guess that would be “weaponizing” art. And this modern piano trio has (curiously) elected this for their stage name.
Well the content of this album is nowhere near your traditional piano trio and may even seem subversive to some listeners. Longleash are modernist throughout. Pala Garcia, violin; John Popham, cello; and Renate Rohlfing, piano self-identify as a group with “traditional instrumentation and a progressive identity.” Indeed they have chosen a rather young and pretty much unknown group of composers: Francesco Filidei (1973- ) is the oldest of the group followed by Clara Iannotta (1983- ), Juan De Dios Magdaleno (1984- ), Christopher Trapani, and Yukiko Watanabe.
Despite the varied backgrounds these composers seem to share a particular segment of a modern aesthetic. They seem fond of judicious use of extended instrumental techniques and quasi-minimalist cells but their styles are quite listenable. They seem to have aspects of pointillism, the occasional terseness of Webern, some rhythmic intricacies and the occasional nod to a melody. In short they seem schooled in the variety of techniques which rose largely out of the twentieth century but seem beholden to none of them seeking instead to judiciously use their skills to create their own unique sound worlds.
There are five works on eight tracks and none of them can be easily described except to say the the combination of listening with the aid of the liner notes can be helpful. That is not to say the works cannot stand on their own. That is a useful experience in itself.
I suppose it might be best to say that these works will likely evoke a variety of reactions from various listeners. This is the sort of album, at least for this listener, that benefits from a direct concentrated listen without distraction but it is also worth experiencing as background music, letting the experience creep in where it might while you do other things. And then a read through the liner notes to try to divine the composers’ intents.
I’m not being facetious here. I think this is a very intriguing album but one which is difficult to characterize in words and one which is beyond this writer’s expertise in terms of any useful analysis. Also the newness of these voices does not allow one to place these works even within the contextual canon of each individual composer’s work. We have free floating modernism which, as was thought in the cold war days, may invade one’s intellect in subversive ways.
The review immediately preceding this one, Soft Aberration, features this piano trio on it’s first track. Now Scott Wollschleger is very closely associated with the Manhattan School of Music. What is curious here is that Longleash has managed to find the present disparate group of emerging composers with no directly discernible connections to the Manhattan School but with a clear affinity for the same sound world. It is the luck of the draw that these reviews have appeared in this sequence but the similarities are striking. So if you like the spare sounds of the New York School (John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff) and their successors in people like Scott Wollschleger, Reiko Futing, and Nils Vigeland (who, along with Pala Garcia provides the useful liner notes) then this will be your cup of tea. But even if you don’t know these folks you are still in for a fascinating journey of cutting edge ideas by emerging composers. And even if it is not “weaponized art” subverting your mind to western ideology you can be assured that it is genuine and uplifting work done by some wonderful performers of composers you will likely hear from again very soon.