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The glittering plain

composer

 
The glittering plain (for alto saxophone, string quartet, and jazz piano trio) is the fourth piece in a series of works that are, in all but name, multi-movement sonatas. So far, each piece has been written for a different, often unusual, combination of instruments. If this reminds anyone of the series of works Debussy was working on at the end of life I wouldn’t be entirely surprised, particularly as the first piece in the series is scored for flute, viola and harp! This latest work, commissioned by Lara James, is different from the others in that it is also an attempt to write a genuine jazz/classical crossover work.

The title is derived from the novel The story of the glittering plain published by William Morris in 1891. The novel itself has elements of ‘crossover’ combining fantasy and the supernatural with the progressive social ideas that interested Morris.

I’m aware that the term ‘crossover’ is problematic: When associated with classical music its meaning is usually synonymous with ‘dumbing down’—Mozart with a disco beat or operatic singers recording ‘lowbrow’ pop and show tunes. This, of course, is a limited view. I wonder, for example, how many works in the core classical repertoire don’t combine elements from different musical spheres—the essential process in any form of crossover?

When combing elements of Classical and Jazz, however, there are specific problems. Jazz is essentially a groove-based music; the rhythmic syncopation typically found in jazz is heard against the backdrop of a clear pulse. It is this groove that makes the syncopation workable and meaningful, and also leads to a performance practice in which rhythmic precision is a central requirement. Harmonic rhythm (i.e. the rate at which the harmonies change) on the other hand tends to be relatively straight forward in jazz. In ‘classical’ music harmonic rhythms tend to be more varied, and there is also a greater tradition of development during which rhythmic patterns are often subverted in a way that would not ‘groove’ in a jazz sense.

It would be pointless of me to try and explain in detail how I came to cope with these issues because the results can be more meaningfully heard in the music. But as a starting point perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the structure and development are essentially ‘classical’. There is no improvisation. Although there are moments when the music might sound as if it has reached the start of a jazz solo, these moments are then developed in a more classical way by re-routing the harmony in different directions rather than presenting improvised melodic variations over a fixed harmonic form.

The glittering plain was composed between November 2010 and February 2011 and is dedicated to Lara James.

from notes by Ian Lawson © 2011

Recordings

The glittering plain
Studio Master: SIGCD286Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

No 1: Movement 1
No 2: Movement 2
No 3: Movement 3

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