Chaz Knapp: Withheld
Varied Frequencies

Like many a recording, Chaz Knapp's debut album Withheld has a storied history. Originally from Southern California, the American composer wrote its material between 2011 and 2013 and recorded it while living in Missouri. But, having inadequate funds to produce the album as originally intended, he eventually abandoned the project and only came back to it a year later, encouraged by a contact enquiring about his music. Newly inspired, he re-conceptualized, edited, and completed the collection in its now-presented form.

Though its thirty-one-minute total makes it more mini-album than full-length, Withheld is substantial enough to allow a reasonably good impression to form of the composer's classical minimalism-related style, which in this case is presented in a chamber music format performed by Knapp (organ, piano, noise), Alex Wand (flute), Casey Dean Hudlow (clarinets), Claire Chenette (oboe), Jacob Hiser (violin), and Melissa Irwin (cello). That noise detail isn't insignificant, as Knapp offsets the melodic accessibility of some pieces with experimental tendencies that are a little less easy to warm up to. In particular cases, the two converge, such that “Lonesome Quintet 1a” includes both luscious melodic content and extra-musical details such as radio transmissions and (what sounds like) the processed thrum of an overhead plane or helicopter.

It's hard not to think of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman when the soothing chords and plaintive motifs of “Lonesome Quintet 1a” appear, and if anything the subsequent “Octet (Shapes)” makes the Nyman connection even stronger when the material's Baroque-classical character and strings-and-woodwinds opulence suggests the track could fit seamlessly into Prospero's Books without anyone batting an eye. Knapp's experimental side comes to the fore during “Space Sextet” when fuzz-drenched radio transmissions gradually segue into a high-octane field of rippling noise. Also included are the reverb-drenched “for Piano,” in which simply keyboard notes are transformed into drifting clouds of blur and haze, and “for Organ,” whose pulsating keyboard thrum brings the recording to a peaceful close. Whatever kinship Knapp's music has to the music of other composers, there's no denying its prettiness and appeal. Still, however interesting the experimental parts of the recording might be, it's the melodic-based content that, on this recording at least, speaks more powerfully on his music's behalf.

June 2017