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Jeffrey KAUFMAN (b. 1945?)
Sonata for B flat clarinet and piano (1973) [19:35]
Overture for a Shakespeare Comedy for woodwind quintet (2016) [7:10]
Brass Quintet on Original Sea Shanties (2015) [15:20]
A Solemn Music for brass sextet and piano (1975) [6:33]
Long and Lazy (arr strings; piano, drums, bass, violin); Fast and Furious (piano) (1970s) [6:33 + 2:51]
Essay for Euphonium and String Orchestra (2015) [5:41]
Song for Strings (2015) [8:54]
Jerome Summers (clarinet)
Robert Kortgaard, Evelyne Luest (piano)
Quintet a Pois
Houston Brass Quintet
ARCO Strings/Levon Ambartsumian
rec. Texas, New York, Georgia, New Jersey, 1983-2017
PHOENIX PHCD186 [72:47]

Vocal Music
Nexus (excerpts) for piano, instrumental ensemble, narrator, soprano and clarinet (1973) [35:57]
Four Works for Small Chorus and piano (1970-75) [8:23]
Emily Dickinson - Four Songs of Nature for soprano, violin, French horn and piano (2017-18) [16:16]
Hineni for cantor, chorus, organ and vibraphone (2018) [9:53]
Long Island Chamber Ensemble; Joshua Pierce; Richie Havens; Janet Jordan; Gregg Smith Singers; Kristen Plumley; Cantor Azi Schwartz
rec. 1983-2017
PHOENIX PHCD187 [70:29]

These two Phoenix USA CDs present listeners with a chance to get to grips with a generous swathe of music by the label's guiding intelligence, the record and theatrical producer, Jeffrey Kaufman. He has been deeply immersed in the commercial recording industry for quite a long time. As a composer, the focus of these discs, it is worth noting that Kaufman graduated from Manhattan School of Music and has worked with many world class orchestras. At about the same time as Woodstock he became Music Director to Richie Havens who opened the Festival. Kaufman had quite a few "crossover" albums to his name and helped keep the wolf from the door. In the 1980s he moved about Eastern Europe making the first digital recordings with various Eastern Bloc states' orchestras. Later he founded the label by which he is now renowned, Phoenix USA. He carved out a distinctive 20th century music catalogue with a US composer centre of gravity. His compositions include Chorale and Rondo Allegro for woodwind octet (1986), In Time Past and Time Remembered, for soprano, boy soprano, clarinet, viola, piano and percussion (1973), Pastorale for strings; Poem, for cello and piano; Reflections, for clarinet and piano and Sonatina for horn and piano (1965). These two discs present the listener with a conspectus of Kaufman's music which is approachable, tuneful, occasionally salty, inflected with popular idioms and at times quite magical, as with the orchestral Essay and Song.

The first disc's miscellany excludes the vocal element. The Clarinet Sonata has three questing and emotionally telling movements. It's not jazzy and is a little like the Ireland clarinet sonata although even more accessible. There is a punchily brusque and winged finale. The Sonata makes a tender-hearted companion to, say, the Bernstein Sonata. The Overture for a Shakespeare Comedy for woodwind quintet is ebulliently active, witty and open textured. There's even a little wink of a quote from Tchaikovsky's Fifth at one point. The three movements of Brass Quintet on Original Sea Shanties include an affable Come down to the ships with trumpet to the fore at first. Later there are some well calculated dialogues between the instruments. Look to the far horizon has about it a feeling of dawn with endless possibilities - a good quiet "centre of gravity" for the quintet. As we load silk and fine tobacco involves an unfurled melody, unhurried yet jolly. There's even an instrumental slur or two. All credit to Kaufman for avoiding the obvious choices. A Solemn Music follows its title: something grand and slow while the piano charts a noble line. It was written on commission to commemorate "Kristallnacht". Long and Lazy was once called Midday Dreams. It's a gel-focus meditation where everything slips in and out of focus. To offset the smooth lulling some penthouse jazz sidles in. Fast and Furious for solo piano is catchy and just as the title promises skips restlessly along. It would have suited the New York-based Richard Rodney Bennett rather well; if only. We turn now to the peaceable utopia of Essay for Euphonium and String Orchestra which is followed by the vigorous sweet and vinegar of Song for Strings. This last is a score that rejoices in romantic striving and thrumming detail. It recalls quality film music or Copland's Tender Land suite.
 
The second disc speaks for the Kaufman's vocal aspect and delivers quite a kaleidoscope of differences. Nexus is almost a revue piece, here in eight selected panels across 35 minutes. At one moment the music "speaks" through a warm haze. It is almost filmic and the close-quarters recording reaches out to enfold the listener. The solo voice of soprano Janet Jordan adds to the Knoxville-like nostalgia. Richie Havens as narrator is quite irresistible, speaking through an enveloping "film noir" fog. Jeffrey Kaufman was Music Director for Havens. Other elements include a mix of 1970s jazz and Edmundo Ross Latin-American style and a choir whose singing makes you think of The Age of Aquarius. Lawrence Sobol puts in an appearance as clarinettist but his name will remind many of his contributions to Crystal's Hovhaness CDs (review review) The final version of I cherish has a message of phantasmal nostalgic yearning. Kaufman's Four Works for Small Chorus with piano are in a musical language comparable with that of Geoffrey Bush, I noted the pleasurable and eager syncopation of Frolic: "The children were shouting together". The Emily Dickinson - Four Songs of Nature brings us up to date (2017-18). We hear what turns out to be a potent 'combo' of soprano, French horn, piano and a remarkably lovely viola-sounding violin. Kaufman neatly encapsulates the slow unfolding of a summer's day. The last track is Hineni. This is a slow-paced invocation and, at times, a clamantly impassioned prayer. The word Hineni means 'Here I am' in a spiritual sense. This is Abraham's response to God's call in Genesis 22:1. Choir ends on a passionate and long sustained high note for the cantor.

There is one other Jeffrey Kaufman disc in the Phoenix catalogue (PHCD182) and this sets out another selection of chamber works.

The discs each come with a booklet which sets out the background to each work and identifies the performers. All the sung words are reproduced in the vocal CD's booklet.

Quite apart from Kaufman's own music the Phoenix list of CDs is worth a browse complete with discs devoted to Holst, Dahl, Brant, Kernis (review ~ review ~ review) Rorem, Yardumian and McPhee. There is much else.

Jeffrey Kaufman is well worth a listen and these two CDs offer the chance to chart his melodic, and far from bland, progress as composer from the 1970s to the present day.
 
Rob Barnett



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