incident light

Imani Winds

A whole world of music

November 16, 2010

Not that there isn’t plenty of life in the old stories, but it’s good to hear some new ones now and then, from different climes, with different points of view, told with verve and skill.

Enter the Imani Winds. First heard locally a few years ago in a memorable Carver Center concert joined by Paquito D’Rivera, the New York-based woodwind quintet made a very welcome return visit to town on Nov. 14, this time on the San Antonio Chamber Music Society series at Temple Beth-El.

The troupe started in familiar territory with an arrangement of the Scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but the rest of the program was contemporary and culturally diverse.
Most interesting were pieces by Julio Medaglia of Brazil, Wayne Shorter of the United States and Daniel Schnyder, a Swiss native living in New York.

Medaglia was represented by his Suite “Belle Epoch in Sud-America.” It comprises three compact, almost-too-short movements with Brazilian folk feeling in their bones, wrapped in a sophisticated skin of disciplined compositional craftsmanship. There’s also a quirky wit to this music, especially in the tango “El Porsche Negro” and the rollicking chorinho “Crazy Baby Clarinet.”

Shorter started his career as one of the most thoughtful of the hard-bop saxophonists of the 1960s, but his subsequent journey took him far afield into free jazz and fusion. Eventually he latched onto the extended classical tradition, but with distinctive twists.

He composed “Terra Incognita” for the Imani Winds, which gave the premiere in 2006. The piece allows the players to improvise and to alter its structure freely, so it can’t be fully pinned down, but the constants are dense, very beautiful harmonies, lovely melodies or melodic fragments, and lively interplay that sometimes recalls Arnold Schoenberg’s counterpoint.

Schnyder’s Woodwind Quintet melds the Modernist classical tradition with jazz, pop and blues ideas. The fast opening movement and the superfast finale also include  good deal of delightful nuttiness. For the two middle movements, oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz switched to English horn and delivered some bluesy feeling, most notably in the slow movement’s tender theme.

The Imani Winds' flutist, Valerie Coleman, is also a composer. There’s much to like in her three-movement  “Afro-Cuban Concerto” -- some elaborate and very engaging solos, ambitious counterpoint, an attractive neo-classical idiom with infectious Afro-Cuban rhythms and inflections. But the music in the first two movements seems too studied and conservative. In the finale, however, Coleman busts loose, communicates more freely and builds to a wild conclusion.

All five players were first-class. In addition to Coleman and Spellman-Diaz, they were clarinetist Mariam Adam, bassoonist Monica Ellis and hornist Jeff Scott. Adam was given the biggest cache of showy material, which she played with considerable aplomb. Not least was her virtuosic and convincingly stylish -- or perhaps the right term is shtetlish -- work in a pair of klezmer dances.

Mike Greenberg