In this wonderful collection of works for two guitars by a group of composers hailing from many spots on the globe, Duo Noire provides a compelling snapshot of the range of expression in contemporary chamber music for the instrument. “Night Triptych” opens with Clarice Assad’s (of the famed Assad guitar family) Hocus Pocus, a dynamic work blending the rhythmic intensity and rich harmonic color of the music from her native Brasil with an encyclopedic understanding of the timbral possibilities on the instrument. Percussive effects and brilliant arpeggios mark the opening movement, and a brooding second movement leads into a driving finale. Mary Kouyoumdjian’s Byblos is inspired by the ancient Lebanese city of the same name, and involves an accompanying electronic track that subtly deconstructs a Mediterranean traditional dance in hazy washes of sound. The guitar writing at times evokes the figurations of its regional cousin, the oud, and the relationship between live performers and the atmospheric backing track frames the push and pull between past and present in Kouyoumdjian’s engagement with this city that has seen multiple civilizations come and go. With its title, Courtney Bryan’s Soli Deo Gloria signals its alignment with centuries of work dedicated to the glory of a higher being and purpose. The composition’s journey is framed in terms of Bryan’s relationship to the stages of prayer — Contemplative, Unsettled and Searching, Questioning and Hoping, a Prayer, Pursuing, Realization, Acceptance. Bryan’s incorporation of jazz and gospel elements is subtle, integrated elegantly into her evolving compositional argument. Iranian composer Golfam Khayam’s title work is in three movements, “Improvisatory”, “Quasi Furioso”, and “Rubato, Amoroso, Molto Cantabile.” As with Kouyoumdjian’s work, we hear echoes of the oud and Middle Eastern music in fleet, ornamental slurred passages and pointed grace notes. But despite the hints at a geographically specific orientation, overall Khayam’s work comes from a place of universal contemplation, a style consistent to those familiar with ECM, the revered German label on which she has been featured. Also of Iranian heritage, Gity Razaz’s work is more squarely within the modernist compositional tradition, and her Four Haikus are four tightly crafted pieces, reminiscent in language and approach to the great late 20th century repertoire for guitar commissioned by Julian Bream. These works give the listener a chance to hear Duo Noire’s cultivated ensemble blend, well considered interpretative approach, and particularly in the second and final movements, rhythmic vibrancy. Gabriella Smith’s Loop the Fractal Hold of Rain engages with popular music more overtly than the other music on the recording, opening with an ostinato figure articulated with a slide that gives way to an insistent groove with engaging polyrhythmic counterpoint in harmonics. Shades of bluegrass and slide guitar inflect the minimalist structure.
Duo Noire’s playing throughout is virtuosic, sensitive, and calibrated beautifully to the style of each work. “Night Triptych” contributes an hour’s worth of important new music into the repertoire, presenting works that will surely make their way into the programs of other guitar duos. Moreover, the program beautifully frames the aesthetic and stylistic diversity of these works within a common sensibility that prioritizes narrative shape and transparent expression.
released June 22, 2018
Produced by Duo Noire
Recorded at University of California, Santa Cruz
Engineered, edited, mixed by William Coulter
Layout and design by Jessica Slaven
Artwork by Marie Rodriguez
New Focus Recordings is an artist led collective label featuring releases in contemporary music of many stripes, as well as
new approaches to older repertoire. The label was founded by guitarist Daniel Lippel (who is the current director) and composer Peter Gilbert in 2003, and features releases from many of new music's most active performers and composers....more