Robert PATERSON (b.1970)
The Book of Goddesses, for flute, harp and percussion (2010) [35:30]
*Freya's Tears, for violin and harp (2010-11) [15:00]
+Embracing the Wind, for flute, viola and harp (1999) [9:38]
MAYA (Sato Moughalian (flute, alto flute, piccolo, bass flute); Jacqueline Kerrod (harp); John Hadfield (percussion - rain stick, ghatam, doumbek, seashell wind chimes, crotales, bar chimes, shekeré, caxixi, udu, uyot seed rattle, cajón, riq, headless tambourine); Ching Chok (triangle)); *Clockwise (Marc Uys (violin); Jacqueline Kerrod (harp)); +American Modern Ensemble (Sato Moughalian (flute, alto flute); Daniella Farina (viola); Jacqueline Kerrod (harp))
rec. Adam Abeshouse Studios, Pelham, New York, 1-3 June 2010; *15 March 2011; +Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 9 June 2010. DDD

American composer Robert Paterson is behind one of the weirdest covers of any art music CD in recent years - sleaziest too, it is fair to say. Bemoaning the fact that pop labels are in a different league when it comes to CD design and marketing, with the classicals "usually boring" by comparison, Paterson and team came up with a cover photo of saxophonist Jeremy Justeson standing outside a pornography emporium "flanked by a couple of girls that look like hookers". Not mincing words, the CD was entitled 'Pimpin'' (AMR 1033). Paterson says "we wanted to provoke people, so we modeled it after a hip-hop album" - his rationale can be read and the cover seen here. Only time will tell the wisdom of such a move, but within weeks AMR had released a follow-up CD of Paterson's music that mercifully took a distinctly more aesthetic road towards public attention. It may not attract the same eyes, but when it comes to CD jewel case design, The Book of Goddesses is the Koh-i-Noor to Pimpin's gewgaw.
Paterson's inspiration for the lengthy work that gives the disc its title, besides the original commission by MAYA, is an illustrated book of the same name by New York writer and designer Kris Waldherr. It must be said that the cover photo above does not do full justice to the product, which has the look and feel of a miniature hardback book coated front and back in gold leaf. The disc itself is housed in a plastic tray fixed to the inside cover, whilst the thick booklet, lushly illustrated by Waldherr, is attached in a similar fashion to the inside back. Given the quantity and quality of the notes, the product has more the feel of a book with a free CD, and as such would make an impressive gift for almost anyone with an ear for music and an eye for art, especially in view of the fact that Paterson's easy-going, mellifluous sound is likely to have broad appeal.
From Waldherr's original scores of goddesses, Paterson chose nine from around the world for musical illustration, allowing him to employ scales, styles and percussion instruments - the ghatam, doumbek and udu, for example - from places as far apart as China, Nigeria and Mexico. Yet he is far from insistent about ethnographic correctness at all times, and happily weaves in other references, as if to underline the universality of religiosity. Paterson's nine goddesses are Sarasvati (Hindu), Xi Wang Mu (Chinese), Aphrodite (Greek), Brigit (Celtic), Estsanatlehi (Navajo), Xochiquetzal (Aztec), Oya (Yoruba), Yemayá (Santerian) and The Muses (Terpsichore, Erato and Euterpe, Greek). The movements are all almost exactly four minutes long and may be performed separately. In the book, each goddess is given a full-page illustration alongside cultural information about the deity in question, and then a few lines by Paterson describing how he set his ideas to music. Some of his background research was particularly arduous, by all accounts - for Aphrodite he "watched videos of belly dancers"!
Given the material, means and intent, it is hardly surprising that The Book of Goddesses sounds rather like a suite of more sophisticated 'world music' pieces - 'Xochiquetzal' and 'The Muses' are prime examples - but it is kept apart from that murky genre by the MAYA trio's first-rate performance, particularly the Durga-limbed percussionist John Hadfield, and Paterson's amiable imagination, the latter only failing in the relatively flatulent 'Yemayá'. Atmospheric, thoughtful, rhythmic and melodic, this work can be listened to and enjoyed by believers, agnostics and atheists alike!
The remaining two items are a little different musically, but equally beautifully illustrated in the book. According to Paterson, the earlier Embracing the Wind started out as the intended depiction of an Olympic runner against the wind, but became more abstract as work progressed, distilled down finally to wind-like fundamentals. As pure chamber music it is enchanting. Freya's Tears is a companion work to The Book of Goddesses, introducing three further female deities, the Greek Iris, Norse Freyja and Egyptian Sekhmet. The ethnic element in the three movements of this work is slighter, or at least more generalised. Again, it does not need any programme to succeed as a tunefully attractive work. It was written for and dedicated to Clockwise, who perform it here with great tenderness and warmth.
The three recitals are superbly recorded. The CD is a little on the short side, but given everything the purchaser gets for the price of a single disc, that can surely be forgiven.
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Atmospheric, thoughtful, rhythmic and melodic, this can be enjoyed by believers, agnostics and atheists alike!