Fanfare

About six years ago in the very first batch of CDs I received from Fanfare Central to review was an Albany recital of brass trios featuring members of the University of Maryland faculty. Among the players was trumpeter Chris Gekker, whose playing, along with that of his colleagues, I praised quite enthusiastically. Here, we have an entire recital performed by this artist, with six works by five composers to showcase his artistry.

First heard is the Fall of Robert Gibson, about whom biographical information may be found in William Zagorski’s review in 20:2. Naturally, I had to read the program notes to ascertain in what sense of the word fall the work was titled; it turned out to be the season, but it is also written in tribute to another work of the same name by Wayne Shorter, performed by Miles Davis on his album Nefertiti. The jazz feeling of this languid, laid-back work is subtle rather than overt, but the influence of Shorter and Davis is hard to miss, and Gekker slows down his vibrato a bit to augment the jazz feeling.

Lance Hulme (b. 1960) is a new name to me, and the notes reveal that he has had a multi-faceted career as keyboardist, conductor, arranger, and educator. He undertook his studies at the University of Minnesota (BM), Eastman School of Music (MM), and Yale University School of Music (MMA and DMA). His Ghost Dialogues is scored for the quite unusual combination of trumpet and tenor saxophone. No other work for this exact combination occurs to me off the top of my head, in fact. The two instruments work quite well together, and the three-movement work is also rather suffused with jazz elements, wherein the two instruments weave lines around each other in clever counterpoint. Saxophonist Chris Vadala seems to go for a sound somewhere in between the jazz and classical styles of playing—I think appropriately for this work. Occasional quasi-multiphonic outbursts add to the interest. Hulme is also heard in his The Street has Changed, a four-movement suite or cycle for voice and trumpet, another non-standard combination of instruments. I hear rather less jazz influence in this work, which effectively contrasts the trumpet with the rich dark quality of the voice of mezzo-soprano Clara O’Brien. Tonality in this work is very free and diffuse, and the second song allows Hulme to exercise his skills in imitative counterpoint. The texts set are by the American poet Randall Jarrell (1914–1965). The fourth piece in the cycle adds an off-stage piano to the ensemble, and mutes the trumpet with a Harmon mute, while the text combines fragments from the three previous poems. The effect is quite spellbinding, and I find this movement the most effective of the cycle, although I hasten to say that I like the entire work a good bit.

Fanfare’s own Carson Cooman is represented by his Equinox Sonata, a mellifluous and gracious work intended to be a true duo for trumpet and piano rather than a flashy showpiece for trumpet with minimal piano accompaniment. Gekker and Cooman got to know each other years ago, as mutual admirers of each other’s artistry, and the sonata is a fruit of that friendship. The work is also intended to be performable by talented younger players, but not at the expense of its expressive and musical qualities. I believe that Cooman has eminently succeeded in those goals, as his sonata proves to be a most rewarding musical experience. Curiously, its middle movement begins a good bit less tonally focused than the secure tonality heard in the remainder of the piece, although it is thereby nonetheless effective, especially given its subtle and mysterious atmosphere. I also very much liked the lively ostinato in the piano in the third movement that served to showcase the lines in the trumpet very well.

Served Two Ways was composed for Gekker by his old classmate from Eastman School of Music, composer and pianist David Helnick. Although the two men performed together a good bit in recital, the present piece foregoes the piano in favor of the tenor saxophone, and forms a six-minute work comprised of kaleidoscopic vignettes, connected through various pitch relationships. This work is probably the least tonal on the CD, but one of the most imaginative in its construction and inventive in its ideas of any in this recital. Occasionally, I also hear some jazz influence. The program closes with Kevin McKee’s thoroughly tonal Song for a Friend, a work written in memory of influential trumpeter and teacher John Wacker, who tragically lost his life in an automobile accident. While I don’t find the work particularly profound in its musical substance, it does provide a moving tribute to the man it memorializes.

Chris Gekker plays sensitively and musically throughout the course of this varied recital, and this CD will certainly be of interest to brass enthusiasts. But as a violinist and composer, I also find much of interest on the disc, and so I believe its appeal will transcend the borders of the brass kingdom.

—David DeBoor Canfield