Textura Album Review

Jody Redhage: Of Minutiae and Memory
New Amsterdam

Saying that Jody Redhage brings a wealth of expertise to Of Minutiae and Memory is definitely an understatement. Often working as an in-demand recording session player, the NYC-based cellist has premiered more than 100 works, many of them her own compositions for chamber ensembles as well as pieces by other composers; has worked with figures such as Pierre Boulez, John Corigliano, George Crumb, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley and with acts like My Brightest Diamond, Fall Out Boy, Chromeo, Esperanza Spalding, Neil Diamond, Sufjan Stevens, Beyonce, and Enya; and performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl. It's not the greatest of surprises, then, to discover that Of Minutiae and Memory's eight premiere recordings sound accomplished, with all of them Redhage commissions except for pieces by Ryan Brown and Joshua Penman (for the record, the release is an updated version of 2007's All Summer in a Day, with a host of new compositions joined by a few from the original).

It should be noted at the outset that Of Minutiae and Memory is not strictly a solo cello recording but more precisely a cello-and-voice recording, as Redhage—a self-described “singing cellist"—includes her voice on many of the album's pieces. She's an excellent singer, too, as evidenced by Derek Munro's “Did You See Me Walking?" where her dulcet tones are heard amidst the cello's plucks and street noises. Though many pieces utilize her voice, cello, and electronics exclusively, an immensely rich sound is achieved through the use of multi-tracking. One such example is “Everywhere Feathers," an arrangement of an aria Stefan Weisman originally wrote for his opera Darkling but that ended up excluded from the final production. The haunting piece is somewhat stark in terms of arrangement, with the multi-tracking of Redhage's cello kept to a minimum (all the better to appreciate its woodsy tone) and her voice heard in its most naked and affecting form.

Joshua Penman's “I Dreamed I Was Floating" establishes the album's electro-acoustic character at the outset, as Redhage's multiplied cello reverberates, its plaintive voice soaring and swooping and the piece immediately establishing the emotional sweep of Redhage's playing. Assembled entirely from recordings of Redhage's voice and cello, Anna Clyne's “Paint Box" shows how thoroughly immersed within the experimental electro-acoustic tradition the album is. Clyne's setting, which finds Redhage's voice punctuating trailing cello lines, bridges multiple traditions in adding an almost medieval-like vocal chant to the piece in a way that gives it an overall clearer shape and coherence. That devotional character carries over into the title track, whose text composer Paula Matthusen drew from a Norwegian prayer her grandmother grew up speaking. Though the composer notes that the text was chosen not for religious or spiritutal reasons but instead to emphasize how a single text can become both familiar and foreign as it's repeated, reinvented, remembered, and resurrected, there's nonetheless a hymn-like air about the piece, largely due to the crystal clarity of the vocal delivery (it would be easy to imagine the Hilliard Ensemble doing their own polyphonic version of Matthusen's meditation). Ryan Brown, like Matthusen, draws upon family memories in his elegiac “The Light by Which She May Have Ascended," in this case honouring his late great-grandmother by having four cellos rise canonically against a backdrop of children playing. Multi-tracking is also used extensively during Wil Smith's “Static Line" with the cello multiplied into a string orchestra of thirty-six players. A droning meditation, the piece slowly swells in size and intensity, the strings expanding to oceanic proportions as a few high-pitched, keening voices ascend ecstatically upwards.

There's much to admire about this forty-seven-minute recording, but perhaps its greatest feat is the ease with which the classical and experimental are so seamlessly married. To her credit, Redhage makes it all sound effortless. She's clearly no dabbler testing the experimental waters, so to speak, during the off-hours beyond the safe confines of her day job, but rather a bold adventurer charting an intensely personalized course through her own ethereal sound-world. The album finds her breathing its electro-acoustic air as if born to it.

October 2011