Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


September 9, 2022
Organism - Copenhagen Clarinet Choir
Label: År Og Dag
Catalog #: AD10
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Release Date: September 1, 2022
Media: 12" vinyl or digital download entry entry

When we think of the word choir, we think of an ensemble of voices. The absence of vocalists on the debut release by the Copenhagen Clarinet Choir provides a natural invitation for listeners to hear the clarinets in the role of voices. We had no difficulty doing so and we bring up this detail only as a way to clarify the instrumentation, a clarinet sextet, on Organism. [Editor's note: Nevermind the extensive tradition of the clarinet choir!]

This music straddles classical and jazz traditions in both conception and execution. The pieces fall along the spectrum of composition and improvisation to varying degrees. On some pieces, such as the opening title track, when the individual musicans improvise, they keep fairly closely to the pre-established melody. On other pieces, especially Three Movements where the composition credits are distributed among the members of the ensemble, the restraints are loosened and the exploratory freedom of the song is more immediately heard. At the same time, the classical tradition of composer providing the score is blended with the egalitarian approach of free jazz ensembles, where each musician is invited to contribute creatively to the performance.

Few listeners would categorize this music as free jazz. The collective agreement of the musicians is to hold themselves to a fuller exploration of a territory more closely bound to the central theme. The music evokes the motion of weaving as a way to describe the interactions of the musicians. The chosen mood is mellow not frantic; the clarinets crooning rather than wailing. The provocation presented by this music is nuanced, the music can be easily enjoyed by many ears.

Cophenhagen Clarinet Choir; photo credit: Malthe Ivarsson

Creative improvisation requires musicians with disciplined dedication to and experience in improvisational practice. The six clarinetists who make up the Copenhagen Clarinet Choir—Anders Banke, Francesco Bigoni, Maria Dybbroe, Jonas Engel, Carolyn Goodwin and Henriette Groth—are each accomplished musicians in their own right, some of whom, we identify as "jazz" rather than "contemporary classical" musicians. (Of course, the boundaries between these two genres grow increasingly blurred and, in any case, categorization of this sort has a limited utility.) Still, these six musicians rise to the occasion to embrace the challenge of improvising in the interior of a compositional space.

While Organism stands on its own merits, we are inclined to briefly mention here another album released earlier this year, Spirit of the Hive because four of the six members of the Copenhagen Clarinet Choir also appear on that record. Moreover, both albums explicitly investigate the communal movement of animal groups (swarms of bees, flocks of birds) through collective improvisation and sometimes musical onomatopoeia. While sharing a similar subject matter and some overlap in musicians, Organism and Spirit of the Hive take divergent paths, the former more musical and the latter more dissonant, and the results are complementary, each providing a unique insight independent of the other. We hope each will find their respective audience and expect some listeners, ourselves included, to enjoy repeated listenings of them both.




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Lest readers be misled, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House do not place any great weight on the words in this review or any other review on the PPPH blog. The music exists outside this review and is neither magnified nor diminished by it. Because we have nothing essential to add, we sometimes find ourselves asking, "Why do we continue to write music reviews?"

The answer we suppose is identified by analogy. When you walk alone along a path and come upon a flower in full bloom you might take a picture and share the photograph with someone, who will find the same pleasure in the folds and color of the petals. Or, if the flowers grow in a wild place, you might even cut some and place them in a vase on the kitchen table, where their fragrance permeates the house. As we write it, the answer seems obvious and this explanation unnecessary; still we are moved to include the disclaimer as a way of expressing the intention behind this inconsequential review.