Riding along the highway at 70 mph, the air conditioning chilling you to the bone, RighteousGIRLS’ newest album Gathering Blue plays. The passing cars and streetlights seem to disappear as you listen to something breath-taking happening before your ears. Your senses seem on overdrive but there are moments of quiet tranquility on the CD. This was my experience upon first hearing Gathering Blue. I couldn’t help but daydream while listening as I drove my hour commute from rehearsal. Pianist Erika Dohi and flutist Gina Izzo, along with guest artists from the New York new music scene have one of the most adventurous new music debut albums in recent years.
Blending disturbing musical interjections (“GIRLS”) with the utterly serene (“KARakurENAI”), Gathering Blue takes its concept from the Lois Lowry novel by the same name. In it, the protagonist finds solace in her challenging world through thread-making. Eventually, she discovers the color Blue, something that is unavailable in her society. RighteousGIRLS uses the metaphor of “colored threads” and illustrates it through the various “threads” of new classical artists around New York, who have composed and recorded tracks on the CD for the group. Composers such as Andy Akiho (the recipient of UMASS-Boston’s 2015 Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund) and Ambrose Akinmusire are two of the featured composers on the album, both providing instrumental accompaniment on their tracks, as well.
From the opening chord strikes of “GIRLS,” the album provides a gourmet dinner of odd and new interspersed by Pascal Le Boeuf’s interludes which serve as superb filler music to transport us from one composer’s song to the next. Le Boeuf’s pieces never seem too long but are sadly not long enough, teasing at intense climaxes and cadences that never come. His knack for writing dark movements are evocative of Bartok’s most restrained and, at times, Stravinsky in the way he brings out gorgeous melodies while winding up the tension with rhythms of auxiliary instruments in the background.
Randy Woolf’s “…nobody move…” moves at the speed of a subway train in Manhattan, halting often to allow us to pick up new arrivals and discoveries yet always traveling to get to the destination. The piece even dives into some near parodies of jazz and blues in the solo piano sections while mixing Prokofiev-like runs with the flute, pulsing and pounding till the very end. “Accumulated Gestures” by Justin Brown feels like it doesn’t have a destination at all, a wildly inventive thing to try. This is the strength of the song, for we do not know if it will ever end until it finally does and we are surprised. Brown’s writing feels like 6 minutes of exposition, leaving the listener uncomfortable, waiting for something that won’t come: a cadence. For this reason, it excels as one of the top tracks on the album.
Mike Perdue’s “Entr’acte” and Christian Carey’s “For Milton” are perfectly written for the group. They play to the group’s expert playing abilities, stretching the limits of what their artists can accomplish when given difficult material; the result is enjoyable to listen to. “non-poem I” by Jonathan Ragonese places the viewer in the middle of an open field in its heart-wrenching delicate melodies from the flute and equally wrenching accompaniment by the piano.
What Gathering Blue accomplishes is creating an outlet for new composers and this new group RighteousGIRLS get the proper attention needed to take off in the new music world. This album will do it. Gathering Blue places RighteousGIRLS in the top ranks, along with Yarn/Wire, an equally provocative group, as the new risk takers in recording and commissioning new works. What RighteousGIRLS accomplishes is that their music is never alienating of its audiences. It provokes questions and forces us to explore the depths of our imagination & psyche through their selections. It is then that we begin to care about what we hear as audience members, and for a group to give the trust of experiencing music over to something new and unfamiliar is an accomplishment matched by very few before them.