Tijani, for piano

Today marks one year on earth for my youngest, our son Tijani. In the year of his birth I wrote a three-movement work for piano. The second and third movements are presented here.

As with the pieces written for Tijani’s older sisters Remi and Kenza, the music here is diatonic, in the key of C major/A minor throughout. I work with simple forms and materials to create something that is childlike, quotidian and yet abstract; composed systematically with a sensibility that wanders between intuitive and arbitrary.

“Lullaby” is a canon of overlapping broken chords in a set of progressions. Each voice in the canon has the range of a fourth. The chord voicings are slightly more sophisticated than in the previous movement, though still based on diatonic roots.

The title “Young Afro Future” is based on a combination of my wife’s nickname for our son and the cultural realm of Afrofuturism. There are three main melodic ideas; the first, a pattern of ascending fourths in the right hand which goes through changes in pitch and harmony; the second, a bassline of staggered octaves which becomes a root-fifth-octave pattern in the second section. The first section of the piece is based on a rhythmic pattern of nine beats; the second, fours alternating with threes. The third idea arrives in this section: progressions of four-note chords, moving in half notes alternating with dotted quarters and later, dotted half notes. Once again I take inspiration from Bach’s Prelude in C Major, in the idea of repeating a musical pattern over and over but substituting new harmonies each time.

Happy birthday, dear Tijani!

Composed 2014
Recorded 2015, Roland digital piano direct to file

Photos: Bruce Russell (“Lullaby”), Nehal El-Hadi (“Young Afro Future”)

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2015

Best of 2014

John Adams, The Gospel According to the Other Mary – Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale, Gustavo Dudamel

John Luther Adams, Become Ocean – Seattle Symphony, Ludovic Morlot

D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Black Messiah

Morton Feldman, String Quartet No. 1 – FLUX Quartet

Flying Lotus, You’re Dead!

Philip Glass, The Complete Piano Etudes – Maki Namekawa

Meredith Monk, Piano Songs – Ursula Oppens, Bruce Brubaker

Laura Mvula, With Metropole Orkest Conducted by Jules Buckley at Abbey Road Studios

Steve Reich, Radio Rewrite – Jonny Greenwood, Vicky Chow, Alarm Will Sound, Alan Pierson

Ann Southam, Glass Houses Vol. 2 – Christina Petrowska Quilico

tuku, moonday sessions:the black

reissues

Herbie Hancock, The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988 (rel. late 2013)

Odyssey, Happy Together (Expanded Edition)

Sly Stone & various artists, I’m Just Like You: Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-1970

Like It’s 1994/95: Uhuru

A recurring introspective retrospective of my music as it sounded twenty years earlier. In early 1994, I took my first trip to Europe, spending a week in Lyon where my music was heard at a university dance festival as well as in the subway for a pop up freestyle contemporary dance event. I spent the latter part of the year working on the indie cassette release Uhuru, which would come out the following spring, and playing keyboards and percussion in a post-punk band. In early 1995, another dance score was heard in London. In late 1995, I began graduate studies at York University, returning nine years after I had first arrived as an undergraduate.

Throughout this period, I continued to hold down a full time retail job selling classical and jazz CDs in Yorkville, as well as freelancing as a composer for dance and theatre. I also got my first taste of hosting college radio. It was my most active period being involved in music in general.

November 1994 rec. February 1995. 8 voices (2 per part), 8 track reel-to-reel. Begins with a row on the seven pitches of the diatonic scale. The pronunciation of uhuru was conflated with “yoo hoo” although I now prefer the proper initial “u” sound. This is life before autotune, for better or worse. Photo: handwritten score excerpt, 1995

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

Kenza, for piano

Today is the second birthday of my second child Kenza, firstborn to my wife Nehal El-Hadi. Just before her birth, I wrote a short three-movement work for piano dedicated to her. I have posted the first movement here.

Like the work written for her older sister Remi, the music here is diatonic, in the key of C major/A minor throughout. I work with simple forms and materials to create something that is both childlike and abstract.

“Fourths + Fifths” is structured around a sequence of six diatonic modes, each associated with a melodic pattern. Each pattern is built up from a single arpeggio into a chordal canon by layering the pattern against copies of itself with different starting points or octaves, although this process is only made clear with the first pattern. The intervals of the fourth and fifth predominate both melodically and harmonically throughout.

Happy birthday, dear Kenza!

Composed 2012
Recorded 2013, Roland digital piano direct to file

Photo by Nehal El-Hadi

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014

I Care If You Listen – Hamelin performs Feldman

I’m delighted to share my debut piece for the excellent contemporary classical magazine I Care If You Listen.

It’s a review of Marc-André Hamelin’s performance of Morton Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus at the 21C Music Festival in May. Have a look and let me know what you think!

Get It up for Love, Five Pianos Re:cover

This is based on Táta Vega’s 1978 cover of the song by Ned Doheny, played downtempo. It is for multiple pianos and combines elements of contemporary classical, jazz and popular dance music. The track could serve as a demo for a live performance, or for a studio recording with acoustic pianos.

The first two pianos, the bassline and main chordal part, were recorded in an evening as a last minute favour for a producer friend. An additional three pianos – lead/solo, second bass/chord and repeating patterns – were added over the next several evenings. A notated version would condense the music to four pianos (score pending).

The piece is faithful to the original material, with a layer of variations added later on, especially in the long outro section. The spirit is one of fun and admiration for the artist and repertoire.

Recorded March 27-31, 2014
Roland digital piano direct to GarageBand, no effects
All playing is live; no programming, looping or quantization

Original recording on Motown arranged by Al Johnson, produced by Winston Monseque, co-produced by André Fischer

Music copyright Warner Music Group and Longdog Music (ASCAP)

This arrangement and notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014