Thursday, April 22, 2010

Christopher Adler, A Bright-Light Composer

January 29, 2009—From the evidence of his latest CD Ecstatic Volutions in a Neon Haze (Innova), composer-pianist Christopher Adler is one of bright lights on the West Coast today. The minimalist style of modern concert music has been a large contributor to the new music heard in the past 30 years, sometimes to mixed results. The key to Adler and his success in this idiom is probably contained in the classic idea of VARIATIONS. This can be opposed to the “process” favored by the early work of Steve Reich and others. With Mr. Adler there is periodicity and repetition, but the forms of change in his music seem to be driven by a non-mechanical musical sensibility not always at the forefront in other similar musics. How can the set of transformations undergone in any particular piece be understood? Adler’s solution is always to create musical interest by letting the variations follow an inspirational path guided by pure invention. What could be a snooze becomes just the opposite.

The five pieces represented on this disk vary also in the ensemble colors available with the instrumentation at hand. The larger group pieces, “Iris” for flute, guitar, cello and marimba, and “Ecstatic Volutions” for acoustic and electric guitars, oboe, bassoon, and piano, create sound color-texture and nicely wrought, idiomatically conceived parts that mesh together for a very interesting aural experience. But this is no less true of the smaller ensemble writing. For example the long standing duet of Adler on piano and Alan Lechusza on winds, here soprano sax, puts in one of the more exciting performances of the disk, “I Want to Believe.” There is a jazz-like attention to velocity and color and a drive to the music that engages. The title cut stands out for me as well in its effective use of guitars and its ability to unveil an arsenal of musical ideas in a relatively short time period. This is music as essential as it is essentialist, no doubt as interesting to play as it is to hear. Listen and you’ll learn as well as enjoy. You might even get the urge to dance. Get this CD at

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