Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Jonathan BESSER
Mr Darwin's Dances [24.30]
Precious Legacy suite [30.27]
various artists including the composer
ATOLL ACD200 [54.57]

Mr. Darwin's Dances
  1. Prelude
  2. Up the Coast
  3. Church
  4. Fiddle
  5. Sail 'till the Seas run Dry
  6. Becalmed
  7. Hornpipe
  8. Refrain
  9. Sydney Sunset
Precious Legacy Suite
  1. Death1
  2. Chant
  3. March
  4. Middle East
  5. River Prelude
  6. River
  7. Death2
  8. Precious
  9. Coda

Without making a great mark on the memory Jonathan Besser's fusion, in Mr Darwin's Dances, of New Age pleasauntrie, Nova Celtica dance, Nymania stillness, softened jazz, Appalachian fiddling, bodhran rapping and antique gallantry makes for kindly listening. Only one track (5) uses a vocal; a gravelly voice it is too sounding like some drover turned drunken mariner. The music was inspired by Roger McDonald's novel 'Mr Darwin's Shooter'. Precious Legacy is less consonant, liquid enough but still grainy with folk influences most prominently Hungarian rather than Celtic. The Coda strays into Gallic musing and is much absorbed by the autumnal orange tones of the clarinet.

The music is scored for violin, clarinet, cello, piano, electric guitar, guitar, loops, banjo, mandolin, double bass, accordion, and drums.

Rob Barnett

and another view from our Jazz section

Jonathan Besser describes his work as a personal geography of the imagination. The first suite was composed after reading Australian author Roger McDonald's novel Mr. Darwin's Shooter.

The prelude, as you would expect, sets the tone for the piece, well-ordered and very musical. Up the Creek has some very fine Clarinet playing from Bridget Miles, she has an excellent tone on the instrument and a very even sound over all of the registers.

The music is very descriptive, Church has a calm about it and Fiddle a slightly Greek feel in both melody and rhythm. Sail till the seas has a vocal from Warwick Broadhead, obviously selected more for his ability to create a 'sea shanty' atmosphere than for the quality of his voice, but it is effective for all that!

Becalmed starts with some more excellent clarinet from Bridget Mills. This time, the equally fine sounding cello playing of Ann Rodda and the deft violin work of Miranda Adams pick up the melody. The music fits the titles very well and I enjoyed listening to this work.

The second work Precious Legacy was scored by JB after seeing a Jewish Exhibition from Prague. The exhibition recorded the holocaust; the music followed the visit. This is again descriptive, but this second suite is much more complex than the former.

It starts with two slow movements which are followed by March, I must confess that to me, this section would have been improved if the end had been a bit nearer the beginning. Middle East however is one of the best tracks with the rhythm section performing it's proper role, as it takes up the 2/4 rhythm of the piece. The leader has to be congratulated for the way he prompts the ensemble from the keyboard to play his pieces, as he wants them. The Jewish theme of the second work could have given an opportunity for some klezmer, musicians of this calibre I am sure would have been able to improvise and this would have added another dimension.

The musicianship, the recording quality and the overall feeling of the music is very good indeed and I hope to have the pleasure of hearing more of Jonathan Besser and his ensemble. I preferred the more simplistic Mr Darwin but others may equally prefer the second piece.

Don Mather

In case of difficulty available from
Atoll ltd, PO Box 99039, Newmarket, Auckland, New Zealand.

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